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“A Mainer From Rockland: Adelbert Ames in the Civil War.”
By Michael Megelsh
Master’s Thesis: Liberty University
Thesis Director: Dr. Brian Melton
Second Reader: Dr. Steven Woodworth
Table of Contents
Chapter 1………………………………………………………………………………………10
Chapter 2………………………………………………………………………………………31
Chapter 3………………………………………………………………………………………61
Surrounded by rough seas and located along the Cape Fear River, Fort Fisher was
considered by the destitute Confederacy to be of vital importance to their survival. By early
1865, the salient fortification remained the last gateway between the Confederate States of
America and the Atlantic Ocean. Located 18 miles south of the prized city of Wilmington, North
Carolina, the formidable fortress had evaded capture while Federal forces held Charleston,
Mobile, and every meaningful fortification along the Mississippi River.1 Its capture would most
certainly deliver a severe moral and logistical blow to the weakening Southern armies. Robert E.
Lee declared that the fort must remain in Confederate hands at all costs or else he and the Army
of Northern Virginia could not endure.2
The United States War Department and its senior commanders were well aware of the
strategic importance of Fort Fisher and the morale which it provided to the weakened
Confederacy. In December 1864, 7,000 troops from the Army of the James, under the eccentric
Major General Benjamin F. Butler set sail from the Virginia coast eventually joining forces with
Rear Admiral David D. Porter and a massive flotilla of 60 warships.3 Prior to the arrival of the
infantry, Porter’s naval command sailed within striking distance of the southern stronghold but
failed to force the fort’s defenders to surrender. After Butler’s expeditionary force arrived on
December 23, a landing was scheduled for Christmas Day. In the end, the subsequent battle
became a debacle.
Rod Gragg, Confederate Goliath: The Battle of Fort Fisher, (New York, NY: HarperCollins
Publishers, 1991), 2-3.
Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume
IV, (Secaucus, NJ: Castle Books, 1887), 642.
Gragg, “Confederate Goliath,” 35-36.
On the morning of December 25, the first Union troops landed ashore. As the Federal
navy continued to bombard Fort Fisher, half the landing force, a division from the TwentyFourth Corps, captured the Fourth and Eighth North Carolina reserve battalions and a battery of
Confederate artillery, then quickly established a defensive line, while moving a brigade forward
to attack. However, before the brigade could commence their assault, the unit and the 2,500 men
who had already landed received orders to withdraw. A majority of the Union force did not
engage the enemy. Believing that the fort was undamaged by the naval barrage, fearing
Confederate infantry reinforcements, and concerned about the weather, Butler ordered that the
troops return to the ships. Before long, the entire expeditionary force left the Carolina coast and
returned to Hampton Roads—the original point from which they embarked.4 The entire operation
was flawed from the start, something that infuriated the officers on the ground primarily because
they were initially ignorant of the orders to retreat.5 The unceremonious retreat exasperated the
division commander whose troops were recalled shortly after their landing. His name was
Adelbert Ames, a West Point officer with a penchant for discipline and courage. While the
Union Army failed to take the fort during that expedition, the capable division commander
would ultimately play a pivotal role in the successful Second Battle of Fort Fisher. In the end, his
success during the second attempt to take the fort would prove to be one of the shining moments
of Ames’ military career.
The conduct of Ames during the war was one of valor and fortitude. Serving with
distinction in nearly every capacity, Ames fought from the first battles of the war all the way
until the capitulation of the Confederacy. Severely wounded at the Battle of First Bull Run, while
fighting with or against twenty-one of his West Point classmates of 1861, Ames received the
Ibid., 87-89, Official Records of the War of the Rebellion ( referred to as O.R. in future), Series I, Vol.,
XLII, Part I, 976-983.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XLII, Part I, 983.
Medal of Honor for his actions.6 He would go on to fight during almost every major campaign in
the Eastern Theatre of the Civil War. Whether commanding artillery batteries at Malvern Hill or
anchoring Cemetery Hill during the Battle of Gettysburg, Ames garnered acclaim from superiors
and subordinates alike. Ames’ aide-de-camp, Colonel Henry C. Lockewood, noted after
witnessing the general’s courageousness during the Wilmington Campaign that Ames was, “The
beau-ideal of a division commander, and such there was no more efficient and gallant officer in
the armies of the Union.”7 Ames exemplified the characteristics and embodied the elements of
the essential solider. He, and other mid-level commanders like him, provided pivotal and
instrumental leadership that helped the Union win the war. In short, Ames was one of the most
talented and highly regarded young officers in the Union Army, and boasts perhaps the finest
record of any “boy general” who fought for the North during the American Civil War.
Ames graduated fifth in his class at West Point, demonstrating superb knowledge in
military tactics while possessing a demeanor that exhibited confidence and discipline.8 His skills
and abilities became quickly apparent and nearly every peer, superior and subordinate ultimately
agreed. Ames was not the only highly regarded, prodigious officer to serve in the Union Army,
however, the praise directed his way from noteworthy officers and figures represents the
adoration and respect many shared regarding Ames. “I know of no officer of more promise,”
declared Major General Joseph Hooker in a letter to Vice President Hannibal Hamlin. “I feel no
doubt that he will reflect great credit upon himself and his state.”9 Describing Ames as a gallant
soldier, future Major General Charles Griffin, who commanded Ames during First Bull Run and
Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, (New York, NY: David McKay Company Inc., 1959),
, Henry C. Lockewood, “A True History of the Army at Fort Fisher.” Maine Bugle, (January 1894), 40.
Blanche Ames Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, (London, UK:
MacDonald & Company, 1964), 60.
Joseph Hooker to Hannibal Hamlin, November 16, 1862, Ames Family Papers, Smith College,
Northampton, MA.
the Peninsula Campaign, wrote, “To add to all he is able and ambitious and has that pride as a
soldier which always brings successful results.”10
From George G. Meade to Oliver O. Howard, Ames’ intellect and his courage became
quite apparent to his superiors. During the Battle of Chancellorsville, Meade lauded the
“intelligence and zeal” of Ames who served as a staff officer during the engagement.11 Perhaps
the most impressive aspect of Ames’s career, as noted by historian Harry King Benson, was he
managed to rise through the ranks not merely because of personal connections or political favors
but also because of his courageous actions on the field of battle and impressive demonstrations
of his military capabilities.12 Officers were not compelled to write praise-laden letters because of
political pressure from an Ames family member, they wrote letters that accurately described
Ames’ worth and reliability. Ames did require assistance to rise through the ranks, but he did not
have a powerful political sponsor and most of his promotions came after meritorious conduct in a
particular engagement. For instance, after the Battle of First Bull Run, Ames received a
promotion and commanded his own battery. Following his service in the Battles of
Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, Ames was promoted to the rank of brigadier general.13
Ames ascended to the rank of general quickly, becoming a brigadier general at the age of
only 27. He became one of the famed “boy generals” a specific group of officers who served in
the Union Army. Most were West Point Graduates, and many of them became division
commanders before the age of 30. Of all of the boy generals, Ames is one that does not
necessarily obtain the most attention. Most of the boy generals were notable and successful
Charles Griffin to Maj. Gen’l Hooker, April 5, 1863, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton,
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXV, Part I, 509.
Harry King Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876. (Dissertation, University of
Virginia, Charlottesville: Proquest/UVA, 1975), 46.
George W. Cullum, ed., Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military
Academy (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1891) II, 772.
soldiers. Hugh Judson Kilpatrick fought throughout the entire war, participating in major
campaigns in both the Eastern and Western Theatre.14 Hot-headed and aggressive, Kilpatrick was
a cavalry man like most of the boy generals. Emory Upton graduated from West Point the same
year as Ames—finishing only three spots behind the Mainer. Upton successfully commanded
troops in the artillery, infantry, and cavalry fighting in battles from Virginia to Georgia while
contributing greatly to tactical changes in army.15 Wesley Merritt and Elon Farnsworth also
received brigadier general commissions in their twenties.16 Notable cavalryman George
Armstrong Custer became a brigadier general at the age of 23, and Galusha Pennypacker’s
promotion to brevet brigadier general, due to his bravery during the Second Battle of Fort Fisher,
made him the youngest boy general at 20.17
While the careers of his fellow boy generals are distinguished, Ames’ career boasts
similar, if not greater, accomplishments which help differentiate him as possibly the most
successful officer of the group. Most notably, Ames fought the entire course of the war, trained
artillery and infantry units that would go on to have major success, while assuming and acquiring
greater responsibility than many of his fellow boy generals. Besides graduating in the top
percentile in his West Point class, Ames served admirably and with distinction in the artillery,
infantry, and engineer corps, validating his adaptability and leadership. In comparison, most of
his fellow boy generals mostly served in the cavalry.
Ames also has the distinction of training and leading one of the most highly regarded
volunteer infantry regiments during the Civil War. Granted leave of duty with the engineers in
the summer of 1862, Ames arrived in Portland, Maine to assume command of a recently formed
Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, 459.
Ibid., 862.
Ibid., 275, 544.
Ibid., 640.
regiment, the Twentieth Maine.18 While Ames commanded the regiment for only a few months,
he instilled in them the mental acumen and discipline that would carry the regiment through the
war. The success of the Twentieth Maine is mostly attributed to Ames who served as an
inspiration to them and their accomplishments helps bolster the excellent military record of their
original commander.19
The Civil War career of Ames included an impressive and meteoric rise through the
ranks. He was not merely an average officer. It is inappropriate to compare Ames to Union
generals such as Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, or Philip Sheridan; these men were
significant figures that deserve credit for leading the Union to victory. However, Ames’ service
is comparable to notable division and corps commanders during the Civil War who had
important roles. These men supported the leaders like Grant and Sherman and compensated for
the mistakes and indecisiveness of superiors on the battlefield. Generals Francis Channing
Barlow, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Emory Upton, and Wesley Merritt are examples of
Union generals who fit this mold. Each have received scholarly monographs dedicated towards
their lives and specifically their military careers. Their accomplished feats and achieved statuses
are similar to that of Ames. Every one of these men rose through the ranks, became generals in
the Union Army, and served valiantly and meritoriously, receiving applause for their heroic
conduct. Yet unfortunately, the military success of Ames has gone under-researched and largely
ignored even though his leadership epitomized this class of officer and he fought valiantly during
important Union victories like Gettysburg and Fort Fisher.
Excerpt from Special Order No. 190, from E.D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant General, Washington
D.C., August 14, 1862, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
John J. Pullen, The Twentieth Maine: A Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War, (Philadelphia, PA: J.B.
Lippincott Company, 1957), 1.
Past scholars have directed attention towards Ames, but not specifically towards his
military career. Following his service in the army, Ames became a senator and governor in the
state of Mississippi during the Reconstruction. It was a trying period both for Governor Ames
and his constituents.20 His political career ended when he resigned from his office after an
impeachment trial began, led by his political rivals in the Mississippi State Senate.21 This
tumultuous period of history in both Ames’ life and the American South is what has garnered the
most attention from scholars and has likely marred and overshadowed his role in the Civil War.
Yet, his time as a soldier is the cornerstone of his life and should be the highlight of his legacy. It
was during this era that he made a name for himself as an able solider and war hero, built
friendships and relationships that impacted his personal and political life, and demonstrated the
characteristics that would shape and define his long, and by most standards, productive life.
As detailed in official reports, newspapers, and personal correspondence, Ames was
highly regarded for his ability to manage his command in the midst of dire scenarios while
exhibiting a calm collectedness. Whether as a lieutenant at Gaines Mill, or a general during the
Bermuda Hundred Campaign, Ames displayed his military acumen whether he led several guns
in an artillery battery or an entire infantry division. Therefore, the unfortunate fact that his
military career has remained mired in relative obscurity and has evaded academic attention is
unfortunate, albeit understandable.
Ames did not have a singular moment, like his former subordinate Chamberlain at
Gettysburg. He was not as colorful as his fellow boy generals, like George Armstrong Custer or
Richard N. Current, Three Carpetbag Governors, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press,
1967), 85-88.
Journal of the Senate of the State of Mississippi. Court of Impeachment in the Trials of Adelbert Ames,
Governor; Alexander K. Davis, Lieutenant-Governor; Thomas W. Cardozo, Superintendent of Public Education.
(Jackson, MS: Power & Barksdale State Printers, 1876) 5.
Hugh Judson Kilpatrick, who led their cavalry divisions with aggression and courage.
Additionally, there were extended periods of time in which Ames was away from combat, either
due to injuries sustained on the battlefield or futile military excursions (which were not attributed
to his own actions). For periods of time, Ames served in armies and fought in campaigns that are
not particularly notable nor were they fundamentally vital to the Union victory. He spent months
in Florida as member of a failed mission to establish a Union presence in the swampy state.
Ames also served under Benjamin Butler during the Bermuda Hundred Campaign, a military
operation that, for the most part, failed. For months, Ames wallowed as a member of fruitless
campaigns. Yet, at the same time, Ames did fight in notable campaigns such as the Peninsula,
Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Overland, Petersburg, and Wilmington
Campaigns. Furthermore, other officers with comparable careers—Barlow, Chamberlain, Upton
and Custer—missed large swaths of time due to injury and did not participate in portions of
notable battles and campaigns due to their particular assignments.
As impressive as Ames was, he was far from perfect. Born with an impatient
temperament, Ames was easily provoked to anger. He could be very temperamental and
obstinate.22 While Ames’ skill and abilities evoked jealous feelings towards him by other
officers, dislike for the Mainer from Rockland could have most certainly been born from the fact
that Ames was demanding, unwaveringly obdurate, and in some instances, nearly volatile.23
Ames was an gifted soldier and most of his detractors grew to admire him, but even though his
Alice Rains Trulock, In the Hands of Providence: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the American Civil
War, (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 16.
William E.S. Whitman and Charles H. True, Maine in the War for the Union: A History of the Part
Borne by the Maine Troops in the Suppression of the American Rebellion, (Lewinston, ME: Nelson Dingley Jr. &
Co. Publishers, 1865), 499.
rank was similar to older, more seasoned men, he was nonetheless still a young officer, in his
twenties, who was a perfectionist that was prone to outbursts and mistakes.
While young, with flaws, and spending portions of time away from the battlefield, Ames
was not just an average soldier or a mere participant in a large volunteer army. He was not a
military figure who found himself in situations with which he was unable to cope. He was not a
political character who achieved a generalship that lacked tactical shrewdness, nor was he a
volunteer who rose through the ranks by means of favors or fortunate chances of fate. In contrast,
Ames received field promotions, accolades, and praiseful prose from his commanders and
lieutenants because of his actions. Furthermore, he epitomized the characteristics exhibited by
the young, mid-level generals who were instrumental in the Union victory while also shining as
arguably the finest boy general the Union Army produced during the struggle.
Scholars have gravitated towards other young generals during the war while focusing on
the postwar life of Ames rather than his military service. While reasons for Ames being
overlooked, as previously noted, might be attributed to his post-war political controversy and
periods of dormancy during portions of the war, the ample time he spent in battle and in
significant campaigns provides evidence of his worthiness and valor. Considering his abilities,
responsibilities, discipline, and superb talents as an officer, Ames deserves to be considered one
of the finest young generals to help the Union achieve success during the war. His actions are
noteworthy, but the class of soldier he represented is what makes his career worth considering.
When analyzing and describing the Civil War service of Ames, it becomes apparent that he
epitomized the ideal of an officer while serving admirably in a vast array of capacities.
Chapter 1- From Cadet to Colonel
Prior to becoming a highly respected boy general, Adelbert Ames spent his formative
years in the quaint New England town of Rockland, Maine. Permanently settled in 1769, the
settlement officially became a charter city in 1853 (the official name of the city was not
Rockland until just three years prior).1 With a population of roughly 5,000, Rockland was, for
such a relatively small town, a prosperous one with an economy supported by lime burning kilns
and shipbuilders.2 It was in this coastal community that Captain Jesse and Martha Ames
welcomed their son Adelbert into the world on October 31, 1835. Described as a “venturesome
people,” the ambitious Ames family traced their ancestry back to Scotland and England yet they
had lived in the Americas for six generations.3 Like Ames patriarchs before him, Jesse Ames was
a mariner, and a master mariner at that. Owning, as well as operating, multiple vessels, Adelbert
Ames’ father had navigated European seas, Cape Horn, and the Pacific. A rugged, yet
trustworthy man, he garnered respect from his crew and held a significant influence over the
development of his son. 4
Young Ames quickly embodied the innate characteristics of his family. Ambitious, Ames
excelled at his studies, and from an early age he craved a higher education. While intelligent,
thoughtful, and known for being jovial—cracking jokes was common place for Ames—the sea
captain’s son was disciplined and capable. It was noted in his formative years that he was
courageous and prideful, unwilling to yield against gangs of young men and boys he encountered
A.J. Coolidge, and J.B. Mansfield, A History and Description of New England, General and Local,
(Boston: MA, Austin J. Coolidge, 1859), 284-285.
Ibid 285.
Blanche Ames Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, (London, UK: MacDonald
& Company, 1964), 1,
Pauline Ames Plimton, The Ancestry of Blanche Butler Ames and Adelbert Ames, (New York, NY: Wizard
Graphics, 1977), 154-155.
Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 1.
who hovered around the Rockland harbor.5 Even as a young lad, Ames possessed a high level of
intelligence while also repeatedly revealing a seemingly endless determination
to succeed.6
His family, both due to their standing in the community and their own personal
temperaments, frequently discussed politics, a topic which regularly captured the attention of
Ames. Although the Ames family directed their focus towards local politics that affected Maine,
the family was also aware of and opinionated regarding the significant political shifts that
occurred in Washington D.C.. While the Ames family shared and expressed a variety of different
views, the one that was perhaps the strongest was their disdain for slavery. Due to the beliefs of
his parents and the community in which he lived, Ames grew to abhor slavery. Applauding the
speeches of Daniel Webster and holding Uncle Tom’s Cabin in high regard, Ames detested the
institution of slavery.7 During one of his voyages on his father’s ship, Ames witnessed the
repulsiveness of southern slave markets which only reinforced his hatred for the practice.8 As the
northern and southern regions of the country began to drift further apart, Ames left childhood for
manhood having a strong set of convictions and ideals.
Ames gained practical experience sailing with his father, but he also displayed an ability
to excel in the classroom as well. Although quite able to self-teach, Ames quickly mastered
formal education while studying at local private institutions in Maine.9 However, Ames’ ultimate
goal was to attend the West Point Military Academy. An acceptance to the school was rare and
difficult to obtain, yet it was exactly the school where the ambitious Ames wanted to enroll. In
1856, after his twentieth birthday, Ames was accepted into West Point primarily due to his
Ibid 3.
Ibid 3.
Ibid 14.
Ibid 23.
Ibid 23.
uncle’s friendship with state representative and future Maine Governor, Abner Coburn.10 In the
future, Ames did not rely solely on personal connections or political backing for advancement.
Harry King Benson argues that Ames did not use “political strings to pull to hasten his own
Immediately upon arrival at West Point, Ames felt comfortable with his new
surroundings. After desiring the opportunity to study there for some time, Ames eagerly applied
himself to his work and education. He quickly assumed leadership roles among the new cadets.
According to Blanche Ames’ biography on her father, “To Ames, West Point was an inspiring
experience and with enthusiasm and native drive he took leadership not only in military drills
and maneuvers but also in his intellectual work.”12 In 1857, Ames’ name appeared on the list of
the academy’s most distinguished cadets and he received the rank of corporal his
first year.
Besides excelling at parade ground maneuvers, Ames put his quick and analytical mind to
work. Shining in mathematics, engineering, artillery tactics, and mechanical draftsmanship,
Ames devoted an exceeding number of hours to book-learning. Interestingly, the student
received demerits, but not for rambunctious behavior or disregarding orders. In fact, Ames
received demerits for “spending too much time reading and drawing” and not returning his books
to the academy library at the proper time.13
Ibid., 23
Harry King Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876. (Dissertation, University of
Virginia, Charlottesville: Proquest/UVA, 1975), 85.
Ibid., 24
Ralph Kirshner, The Class of 1861: Custer, Ames, and Their Classmates After West Point. (Carbondale,
IL: University of Southern Illinois Press, 1999), 7.
After five years of research and study, Ames graduated fifth in his class out of forty-five
students, accomplishing a goal that had held a preeminent position in his thoughts.14 Both West
Point classes of 1861 would produce bright, intelligent, and gifted young officers, but regrettably
many would find themselves opposing each other on the field of battle. The chaos of the national
crisis that came to fruition in the 1860s caused dozens of cadets to change their loyalties from the
Union to the newly established Confederacy. While twenty-four of Ames’ classmates resigned
their commissions to fight for the South, Ames, the Yankee from Maine, never once doubted his
allegiance. Following his graduation on May 6, 1861, Ames received his first of many
commissions; the commission promoted Ames to the rank of second lieutenant in the U.S. 2nd
regiment of artillery.15 Only eight days later, Ames would receive another promotion making
him a First Lieutenant.16 A week later, Ames received word that he would assist in training
volunteer troops in the nation’s capitol while also being a member of Charles Griffin’s West
Point Battery.17
He—along with other recent West Point graduates—trained new recruits and did their
utmost to prepare the masses of volunteer soldiers that flooded the streets of the District of
Columbia. While senior officers in the Union attempted to develop an organized, structured
army, Ames provided disciplined and detailed instruction to the troops that would comprise the
fighting force.18 Meanwhile Ames and thousands of Union troops penned inside the confines of
the stagnant and muddled capitol awaited their first battle. Unfortunately, none of Ames’ letters
George W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy,
Volume 2, 2nd ed,, (New York, NY:, D. Van Nostrand, 1879), 1892, 772., Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War
Dictionary, (New York, NY: David McKay Company Inc., 1959), 12.
War Department commission, May 11th, 1861, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Harry King Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 23.
General Order No. 21, War Department Adjutant General’s Office, May 17, 1861, Ames Family Papers,
Smith College, Northampton, MA., Special Order No. 88, War Department Adjutant General’s Office, May 20,
1861, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton, MA..
Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 23.
written during this time exist. Nevertheless, both the vast majority of the public and the troops
wanted action. As Harry King Benson noted, they believed that one major clash against the
Confederate forces in Northern Virginia could bring the war to a swift conclusion. American
pride “demanded reprisal and resolution of the issue.”19 As July 1861 arrived, both the public
and Ames would soon become acquainted with a war that embodied the antithesis of their
expectations—the battles would be far bloodier and the war would last much longer than
The First Battle of Bull Run tested the mettle of the untried lieutenant and nearly cost
him his life. Taking place on July 21, 1861, the engagement, also known as Manassas, was
exceptionally chaotic as fledgling, and poorly organized armies clashed in rural Virginia. Ames,
along with Griffin’s battery, left the confines of Washington D.C. on July 16. Their march
toward the battlefield was congested and their advance on the day of the battle, which began at
2:30 in the morning, was long and arduous as well. As Bvt. Major General James B. Fry noted,
the early portion of the battle consisted of feeble and tedious advances.20 Griffin’s battery
advanced through woods on the edge of the battlefield and moved within a thousand yards of the
Confederate defensive line which gathered along the Warrenton turnpike. While being supported
by infantry, Griffin’s Battery D, including Ames’ command, assembled at 11:30 am and then
opened fire from their position near the western spur of a knoll called Henry Hill.21
The battery delivered a lethal and relentless barrage, silencing Confederate batteries
situated across the field. “At this time my brigade occupied a line considerably in advance of that
first occupied by the left wing of the enemy,” Colonel Andrew Porter noted. “The Battery was
Ibid 23.
James B. Fry, “McDowell’s Advance to Bull Run,” in Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough
Buel’s, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume I, (Secaucus, NJ: Castle Books, 1887), 183.
O.R., Series I, Vol., II, 383-385, 394.
pouring its withering fire into the batteries and columns of the enemy whenever they exposed
themselves.”22 Another quote noted that, “The batteries of Ricketts and Griffin, by their fine
discipline, wonderful, daring and matchless skill, were the prime features in the fight.”23
However, due to confusion, the tide of the battle shifted and Ames nearly lost his life.
As Griffin’s battery prepared to fire canister into an oncoming column of troops, they
received orders to hold their fire. Assuming that it was a regiment of troops to support the
battery, the artillerymen relaxed. A moment later, a deadly volley ripped through the battery
felling men and horses. Instead of a Union reserve unit, it was a Confederate force wearing
similar uniforms.24 During the volley, a musket ball struck Lieutenant Ames in the thigh,
dropping him to the ground. However, as noted by Captain Griffin, Ames doggedly refused to
leave his command and unwaveringly continued to direct his troops:
In addition, I deem it my duty to add that Lieutenant Ames was wounded so
as to be unable to ride a horse at almost the first fire; yet he sat by his
command directing fire, being helped on and off the caisson during the
different changes of front or position, refusing to leave the field until he
became too weak to sit up.25
After rallying from a disastrous start, the Confederates drove the Union Army from the
field. With a significant loss of men and horses, Griffin’s battery abandoned half of their artillery
pieces behind. As Griffin reported, “impossible to take more than three pieces from the field.”26
Ultimately, the battery would hold on to only two of their cannons after a third was lost in the
shuffle of army’s pell-mell retreat. After suffering significant losses, their commander could not
help but praise their efforts. “I would state that my officers and men behaved in a most gallant
Ibid., 383-385.
“McDowell’s Advance to Bull Run,” Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, ed, Battles
and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume I, 188-189.
Ibid., 188-189.
O.R., Series I, Vol., II., 394.
manner, displaying great fearlessness, and doing their duty as becomes brave soldiers.”27 Ames’
troops helped their lieutenant onto an ammunition wagon that bounced and listed the young
officer all the way back to Washington D.C. Without springs, the wagon contributed to the
misery of Ames’ wound and made the journey an excruciatingly painful one.28 However, in just
his first battle, Ames displayed the determination and discipline that allowed him to rise through
the ranks of the Union Army. Nevertheless, the battle was a demoralizing defeat. “It is a sad duty
to record a defeat accompanied with the loss of so many valuable lives,” stated Colonel Ambrose
Burnside. “But defeat should only make us more faithful still to the great cause.”29
After spending several weeks in a military hospital in the District of Columbia, Ames
finally recovered from his wound. Almost immediately after being discharged from the hospital,
the army requested that he take part in training fresh recruits just as he had done so superbly
prior to Bull Run. In good spirits, Ames wrote his parents and informed them regarding his
situation. From October 1861 to the end of the war, Ames’ letters to his parents and relatives
help provide insight into his actions, experiences, and most importantly, his thoughts. Writing
home on October 3, Ames was feeling jubilant. Besides being able to move about and ride a
horse without inconvenience or significant pain, he now commanded his own battery. After just
one engagement, the army rewarded Ames for his gallantry, and he received a promotion to
brevet major.30
“I am in command of the battery,” Ames wrote his parents. “The Captain [Griffin] has
been promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on Gen. McClellan’s staff. I shall be a Lieutenant
Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 68.
O.R. Series I, Vol., II, 398.
Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 24.
commanding a battery.”31 Ecstatic, Ames reveled in the fact that the unit would now be known as
‘Ames’ Battery’. Earlier, Ames contemplated resigning his commission in the regular Army and
commanding volunteer troops from his native Maine. While tempting, Ames likely changed his
mind when his promotion came through to command Griffin’s old battery. Although volunteer
officers held higher ranks in the volunteer regiments, Ames, and his fellow West Point graduates,
possessed more military intellect and skill. Instead of enjoying the rapid succession through the
volunteer ranks, Ames elected to command his regular army battery rather than accepting a
commission from Maine, “I shall not have to ask my native state to do anything for me now,” he
From September 1861 to March 1862, Ames and his new command defended
Washington and the surrounding area. Simultaneously, Ames gave instruction to new volunteer
units, something he did with discipline, vigor, and success.33 The new Union commander,
George B. McClellan, began to assemble and organize the Army of Potomac into a larger, better
equipped and structured fighting force. As 1861 gave way to 1862, Ames and his battery would
participate in the largest military operation the continent of North America had ever witnessed.
While a major campaign hovered on the horizon, Ames impatiently waited for his
opportunity to lead his battery in battle. With the exception of one lone excursion into Maryland,
where Ames and his troops did scuffle with the enemy in a brief skirmish, the young officer and
his battery remained in the vicinity of Washington—Ames continuing to drill and instruct his
own troops and other volunteers.34 “I brought my battery back to the city recently [from
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, October 3, 1861, Ames Family Papers, Smith College,
Northampton, MA. (Ames was a brevet major but referred to himself as a 1st Lieutenant in this letter).
Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 71.
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, December 4, 1861, Ames Family Papers, Smith College,
Northampton, MA.
Maryland], where I shall remain until an advance is made,” Ames wrote to his mother and father.
“My health is excellent,” he noted, “and I have been laboring very, very hard.”35 As Ames and
his troops waited, he felt the utmost confidence that his battery would develop into one of the
finest in the army. In a letter dated December 21, 1861, “My battery is progressing finely. At
Camp Hooker in Maryland my men were frequently under fire, and I hope when they meet the
enemy they will not disgrace me.”36 While confident, Ames repeatedly told his parents that it
was not vanity—although it possibly was—with which he described his command, but rather
pride in their efforts.37
Since early January, General McClellan had made his intentions known. Intending to
outflank Confederate forces, the young major general wanted to transport his army to Urbanna,
Virginia and then advance 50 miles overland to capture the Confederate capitol of Richmond,
Virginia. Sharing a similar impatience to that of Ames, President Lincoln issued an order which
required that McClellan proceed with his operation. However, in a lengthy letter of rebuttal,
McClellan explained his objections to the president’s order. “Although never formally revoked,”
McClellan recalled, “it is to be assumed that my letter produced, for a time at least, the desired
effect.”38 However, the initial plan was nullified when southern troops under the command of
Joseph E. Johnson withdrew south of the Rapidan River. With political pressure in Washington
mounting and frustration among the troops noticeable, McClellan finally began to move his
forces—transporting thousands of troops to the peninsula fortification known as Monroe.39 Ames
and his command became participants in the largest field operation in the entire war. When the
Adelbert Ames to Martha and Jesse Ames, Washington, D.C., December 21, 1861, Ames Family Papers,
Smith College, Northampton, MA.
George B. McClellan, “The Peninsular Campaign,” in Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough
Buel’s, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume I1, (Secaucus, NJ: Castle Books, 1887), 167.
Ibid., 169.
lengthy Peninsula Campaign of the spring and summer of 1862 finally commenced, Ames was
more than prepared. “No one is more anxious for an advance than I,” he said.40
The elation in Ames’ letters signifies his joy that he and his command were finally on the
march and away from the familiar confines of the Washington D.C. area. As Ames and his
command of 150 men proceeded towards Alexandria, Virginia he admitted that, “The war is, in
my opinion, drawing to a close. These continued reverses must of necessity dishearten the rebels.
They must yield sooner or later.”41 At the time, the Confederacy had reason to fear. A massive
army had mobilized against them, panic ensued. The Richmond Dispatch nervously declared,
“The enemy are at the gates. Who will take the lead and act, act, act?”42 As the Confederacy
awaited the bayonets of McClellan’s massive command, Ames and his battery moved into
position outside of the town known for its involvement in the American Revolution, Yorktown.
With Confederate forces holding the town, Ames and his battery awaited orders, most
likely, to dig in and prepare for a siege. In a letter home, Ames speculated about the potential
outcomes of the stalemate. “I am not permitted, or rather orders forbid all persons writing about
military operations in the field. I can only tell you we are to have a siege here. Of this I am not
certain; it is simply my opinion.”43 A siege did in fact occur. Due to Ames’ engineering skills,
Colonel Henry Hunt, commander of the Union Artillery Reserves, ordered the young lieutenant
to oversee the construction of earthworks for the Federal forces.44 Although the lack of action
likely exasperated the young officer seeking to demonstrate the aptitude of his battery, Ames
Adelbert Ames to Jesse and Martha Ames, Camp Duncan, D.C., January 14, 1862,”Ames Family Papers,
Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Blanche Butler Ames ed. Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century: Family Letters of Blanche Butler and
Adelbert Ames Volume I, 1861-1874,( Privately Issued by Colonial Press Inc.,Clinton: MA, 1957), 8.
Stephen W. Sears, To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign, (New York, NY:Ticknor &
Fields, 1992), xi.
Adelbert Ames to Martha and Jesse Ames, 5th Arty. Camp near Winfield Scott before Yorktown, V.A.,
April 18, 1862, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XI, Part II, 352.
remained in relatively good spirits, informing his parents the names of his subordinates, the
occupations of their fathers, and the weather which Ames described as “delightful.”45 However,
the earthworks created during this spell saw no action. By May 5, after delaying the Federal
advance for a month, the Confederates withdrew from the city leaving behind an army that was
developing logistical issues and emulating the hesitant idiosyncrasies of its commander.46
After leaving Yorktown, Ames and the Fifth Artillery lumbered towards West Point,
Virginia where he wrote to his parents saying that, “I have yet seen no fighting…It is possible,
however, that they may retire South, giving up Virginia without a struggle.”47 Even though
unable to display his leadership, Ames was in relatively good spirits. Believing that the
Confederate forces would falter against the Army of the Potomac, Ames was confident that a
decisive battle would soon unfold. “We all have the greatest confidence in General McClellan—
politicians notwithstanding,” said Ames. “A successful battle here will soon terminate the
war.”48 That decisive battle did not come, nor did any battle, or even a skirmish, that involved
Lieutenant Ames and Battery A.
By early June, the minimal action and delayed march had worn down Ames’ patience, an
attribute that Ames did not naturally possess in great quantity. His parents, who decided to leave
the coast of Maine for the plains of Minnesota, most certainly could sense their son’s frustration
when they received his notes. “I must express my disappointment at my success,” wrote the
Mainer, “or because of want of success thus far; notwithstanding the many minor fights that have
Adelbert Ames to Martha and Jesse Ames, 5th Arty. Camp near Winfield Scott before Yorktown, V.A.,
April 18, 1862, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 81.
Adelbert Ames to Martha and Jesse Ames, Camp at Cumberland Landing, May 14, 1862, Ames Family
Papers, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
taken place since we started I have not been in one.”49 As his fellow classmates, such as Edmund
Kirby, intrepidly led their commands, Ames almost resigned himself to the fact that, “I probably
shall not get into any [battles]…I do not think I could be in a more secure [and safe] place than I
am now.”50 Two weeks later, Ames remained in camp along the Chickahominy. The officer who
would go on to fight at Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, and Cold Harbor bemoaned his current and
dull position. “I have not been in any of the engagements that have taken place here,” Ames
lamented. “And I think it very doubtful if I have the fortune to be in any. I am quite disgusted
with my own ill luck.”51 Ames was certainly upset and his pride hurt. However, in an expedient
turn of events, Ames and his command became key participants in a pair of significant battles.
It was during the climax of the Peninsula Campaign, from June 27-July 1, that Ames and
his battery finally engaged the enemy. Following a battle the previous day at Mechanicsville, the
bulk of the Confederate force, now under the leadership of former West Point superintendent
Robert E. Lee, attacked the Union Fifth Corps which was isolated on the Northern side of the
Chickahominy (even though the Union troops held a strong defensive position). In a rare
instance, the Confederates outnumbered the Federals, however only slightly, and the battle
proved to be the costliest and arguably the most gruesome of the campaign. After the war ended,
veterans from both sides insisted that the volume of fire was unmatched when compared to any
other battle in which they had participated.52 A large number of these soldiers would fight at
Antietam and Gettysburg, yet they insisted that Gaines Mill provided a unique and overpowering
experience. Although sources vary in regards to the loss of life and limb, conservative estimates
Adelbert Ames to Martha and Jesse Ames, Camp at near New Bridge, Chickahominy River, V.A., June
3, 1862, Ames family papers, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Ames ed. Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century, 12.
Sears, To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign, 249.
project that the Union suffered 6,837 casualties and the Confederacy amassed 7,993.53 Of all of
the battles to test the leadership and abilities of a young artillery commander, Gaines Mill was
far from the easiest.
Unable to pull back the Fifth Corps, which McClellan feared would expose the rear of the
Union Army, the tentative commander ordered all disposable troops to reinforce the corps as the
remaining Federal forces marched to Malvern Hill along the north bank of the James River.54 As
an artillery battery already assigned to the Fifth Corps, Ames’ Battery A was primed and
prepared to engage the enemy. In his first official report, Ames detailed the actions of his
command. Stationed near Garnett’s Farm, just adjacent to Gaines Mill, Ames and his battery
positioned themselves along the banks of the Chickahominy. At high noon, Ames and his men
came under heavy fire from an estimated five Confederate batteries.55 “Their [Confederates]
distances varied from 800 to 1,500 yards,” Ames described. “After a cannonading of about an
hour and a half they were silenced. Their loss is supposed to have been considerable.”56
Lieutenant John L. Massie, a Confederate artilleryman who engaged against Ames’ battery
described the Yankee volume of fire as “warm” and with little to no cover, Massie’s battery
withdrew.57 Stephen D. Lee, acting Chief of Artillery of General John B. Magruder’s division
also noted the viciousness of the Union artillery. “He [Union artillery] replied with alacrity,
showing he was still strong.”58 As a whole, the Confederate batteries suffered moderate
casualties during the fight.59
Ibid., 249.
Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 85.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XI, Part II, 252.
Ibid., 252.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XI, Part II, 545.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XI, Part II, 747.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XI, Part II, 748.
As the afternoon heat intensified, all of the batteries except Ames’ withdrew leaving the
young officer in command of the only Union battery at Garnett’s Farm.60 In the report, Ames
noted the marksmanship of the Rebel gunners and an additional, yet brief, fight that ensued
during the sunset. The Confederate force did not drive the Union troops from the field, although
they did break the Union lines, however, Ames beamed at the conduct of his men and his
subordinate officers.61
The Union Army had repulsed a slew of aggressive, yet discombobulated, Confederate
attacks. Although a broad statement, Fifth Corps commander Brevet Major General Fitz-John
Porter described his disciplined and courageous officers which included Ames. “Their [the
troops] commanders were not excelled by those in any other corps in ability or experience; they
had the highest confidence in each other, in the army, and in their own men, and were fully
competent to oppose their able adversaries.”62 However, the corps which had fought so valiantly
against the Confederate onslaught withdrew hastily. While the troops at Gaines Mill were
outnumbered, McClellan exaggerated the contrast in numbers.63 Like the entire campaign, the
higher command of the Army of the Potomac was rife with delusions and lethargic tendencies.
Ultimately, Ames and his battery later found themselves positioned in what would be the final
battle of the campaign.
Malvern Hill, the site of the final battle of the campaign, was where Ames would garner
great distinction and praise. Positioned north of the James River and forming a massive plateau,
the piece of land was where General McClellan regrouped and arranged his army. Awaiting the
rebel attack, McClellan formed his troops into a large semi-circle. Once the Fifth Corps, and
Fitz-John Porter, “Hanover Court House and Gaines Mill,” in Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence
Clough Buel’s, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume II, (Secaucus, NJ: Castle Books, 1887), 343.
Sears, To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign, 250-251.
Ames, arrived at Malvern Hill, orders sent the young lieutenant’s battery to a position along the
River Road.64 Although supported by nearly 18,000 infantrymen, Ames and the other batteries
along the crest of Malvern Hill were conceivably the most invaluable units on the field.65 The
Union troops amassed on the hill may have looked daunting to the approaching Confederate
regiments, especially because of the significant artillery presence on an open field. However, the
skilled Yankee gunners did not thwart the intentions of the Rebel force and the battle
commenced on July 1, 1862.
The volume of the Union artillery barrages pummeled the oncoming waves of
Confederate troops. The Yankee gunners raked the Southern regiments leaving thousands of
dead and wounded men on the field piled up “like cordwood.”66 In his own words, Ames
described the heavy cannonade. “Early in the afternoon the enemy charged a battery on our right,
but were entirely cut up, with the loss their colors. In this instance of canister was very
effective,” Ames said.67 At times Ames and his men were under heavy musket fire yet they
continued to unleash a relentless and effective barrage on the oncoming enemy. “During the
battle,” Ames noted, “1,392 rounds of ammunition were expended.”68 That total was for Ames’
command alone, and the salvos remained effective even when the ammunition train was removed
from the battlefield. “Had not the ammunition train been removed, we would not have failed of
ammunition at any time.”69 Lauding his subordinates, Ames praised his lieutenants and enlisted
Sears, To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign, 311, O.R., Series I, Vol., XI, Part II, 252-
Sears, To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign, 311-312.
Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 41.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XI, Part II, 252-253, (report is also found in Ames Family Papers).
Ibid., 252-253.
Ibid., 252-253.
men for behaving coolly and courageously—traits that the battery commander possessed as well.
Ames went on to boast that even, “Every private of the battery nobly did his duty.”70
Ames received a great deal of praise for his conduct. In a report to Henry J. Hunt, one of
the highest ranking artillerymen in the army, Lieutenant Colonel George W. Getty described the
events of the battle. A West Point man himself—and an eventual Major General in his own
right—Getty lauded the conduct and displayed admiration for Ames and his command:
At the Battle of Malvern Hill, July 1, Ames’ Battery was posted on
the right of the main road leading by the House, and with other
batteries, was supported by the division of General Morrell. The
battery remained on the field during the entire day, and was handled
with great skill…First Lieutenant Adelbert Ames, commanding
Battery A, Fifth Artillery, deserves particular mention for his
gallantry and skill at the battles of Chickahominy and Malvern.71
Due to Ames’ conduct at Malvern Hill, he received another promotion. Now a brevet
Lieutenant Colonel, Ames was a proven and recognized field officer.72 Up until this point, Ames
seemed comfortable in his surroundings. He had bypassed the rank of captain, was made a brevet
Major and then a brevet Lieutenant Colonel while commanding one the most highly regarded
batteries in one of the most highly respected artillery regiments in the entire army. However, by
mid-1862, President Lincoln recognized the need for more troops and authorized a call for an
additional 300,000 volunteer soldiers. Needing veteran officers to command these green recruits,
the War Department relaxed its aversion to Regular Army officers serving in volunteer
regiments. It was due to this influx of new soldiers, and Ames’ impressive, record that the young
lieutenant colonel found himself in command of what would become one of the most respected,
decorated, and storied volunteer regiments in the Union Army.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XI, Part II, 252-253.
Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 41. Ames ed. Chronicles From the Nineteenth
Century, 13.
Temporarily assigned to the Topographical Engineers after the Peninsula Campaign, for
reasons unknown, Ames, by order of the War Department, took a special leave of absence to
assume command of a newly formed regiment in his native state of Maine.73 One of five new
regiments from the state of Maine, the Twentieth Maine volunteers appeared to be the antonym
of their new, refined, yet occasionally impatient commanding officer. Like Ames, every soldier
was born and raised in the sometimes inhospitable climate of Maine. The livelihoods and
lifestyles that the Mainers were accustomed to were familiar to Ames. Many were farmers,
fisherman, and woodsmen. However, the greatest contradistinction between Ames, now a
Colonel, and his troops was that Ames had a top-tier military education and was a polished
military man who had seen action while his new regiment lacked the same tutelage and had
never experienced the terror of combat. Understandably and ultimately, the greatest difference
between the recruits and their commanding officer was the disciplined military lifestyle, a way of
life for Ames and an alien routine for his new soldiers. This would cause friction between the
men and their commanding officer. Training new recruits was something Ames was accustomed
too. He understood the difficulties from past experiences, but he was also well aware that not
every recruit possessed the same temperament of a fisherman from Camden or a farmer from
Bangor. Mainers were a different breed entirely and Ames knew it.
Arriving in Portland, Maine in August 1862, Ames, now a full-fledged Colonel, felt the
pressure from his superiors to provide the Union with a regiment of the highest quality. The
disciplined officer encountered his troops for the first time at Camp Mason. As noted in John J.
Pullen’s The Twentieth Maine: A Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War, the recruits did not salute
officers but rather said, “How d’ye do, Colonel,” and while the men had the desire to become
Excerpt from Special Order No. 190, from E.D. Townsend, Assistant Adjutant General, Washington
D.C., August 14, 1862, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
soldiers and act accordingly, they had no notion of military affairs or conduct.74 Upon
encountering his rough, uncouth regiment, with varying degrees of military competence, Ames
supposedly fumed, “This is a hell of a regiment!”75 While Ames saw promise in his new
regiment, he by no means anticipated greatness. During his first viewing of the troops, he saw
able-bodied, patriotic volunteers and men who had experience with firearms. However, the fact
that only one officer in the regiment, Major Charles D. Gilmore of Bangor, had any military
experience, made Ames’ job more difficult.76 Not only would the Colonel have to train his rank
and file infantrymen, but his officers also. Although his second in command, Lieutenant Colonel
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of Brunswick, was an intelligent man, his lack of military
experience would require tutoring in order to acclimate him to military tactics and
responsibilities.77 It was a difficult task that would test the patience of an ambitious and
occasionally temperamental Ames.
With little time to appropriately train the Twentieth Maine, Ames aptly, yet with some
difficulty, had to accelerate training of the regiment and its officers. Wanting to demonstrate that
his versatile abilities to train and lead could apply anywhere, Ames quickly began to teach his
new regiment the fundamentals in marching, maneuvering, and firing. At night, Ames and his
inexperienced officers laboriously studied available military texts.78 The training wore on Ames’
already depleted patience since his officers and troops had difficulty mastery even the
rudimentary, yet essential commands. The complexities of marching, forming columns, and the
general movements a regiment needed to perform efficiently and effectively on the battlefield
John J. Pullen, The Twentieth Maine: A Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War, (Philadelphia, PA: J.B.
Lippincott Company, 1957), 1.
Ibid., 2.
William E.S. Whitman and Charles H. True, Maine in the War for the Union: A History of the Part
Borne by the Maine Troops in the Suppression of the American Rebellion, Lewinston, ME: Nelson Dingley Jr. &
Co. Publishers, 1865), 490.
Pullen, The Twentieth Maine, 5.
Trulock, In the Hands of Providence, 16.
were too much for the young recruits to master in such an abbreviated time.79 Before long,
however, the troops realized that it would be best for the regiment, and their ears, if they learned
quickly and adapted. More often than not, Ames would address his troops the traditional way if
they failed their assignments—loudly and brashly.80 A soldier described him as a “savage man”
and a number of the volunteers wished that Ames would find himself locked away in a prison.81
For all of the positive qualities Ames possessed, he was still a newly commissioned officer, with
great responsibility, who was prone to frequently vociferate.
Nevertheless, Ames produced positive results with his disciplined and sometimes
explosive training. As Pullen notes, the men of the Twentieth Maine were raw materials that had
potential and Ames did his utmost to prepare them as quickly as possible.82 In the past, Ames
had an abundance of time to prepare soldiers to the best of his ability. Now, he had to train a
regiment and prepare them for combat with a minimal amount of time—roughly three weeks—
while also managing extremely independent, albeit willing, individuals.83 The month of August
1862 was ultimately a test for both the new volunteers trying to adjust to military life, and the
ambitious Ames prone to impatience and perfectionism. Eventually, the regiment did begin to
take the shape of a well-organized, hard-nosed unit. Most importantly, as Benson writes, “A
certain pride and esprit de corps began to emerge; eventually, even the regimental attitude
towards Ames would change.”84
After a few weeks, Ames still had doubts regarding his soldiers. However, he had no
choice but to hope for the best. Officially mustered into the U.S. Army on August 29, 1862, the
Ibid., 16., Pullen, The Twentieth Maine, 9.
Trulock, 16.
Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 43.
Pullen, The Twentieth Maine, 14.
Ibid., 14-15.
Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 43..
regiment had taken significant strides since its conception.85 While the results of the few weeks
of training in Camp Mason still left plenty to be desired, especially for the perfectionistic Ames,
the young colonel had done a masterful job. By Ames’ standards, however, the regiment still
needed more instruction and better supplies, yet they were summoned to join the Army of the
Potomac post haste.86 Boarding the vessel Merrimac (not the ironclad), the regiment consisting
of 965 officers and men left Portland, Maine on September 3; many soldiers would never again
return to their native state. After three days at sea, the regiment disembarked in Alexandria,
Virginia on September 6.87
Once off their ship, the Twentieth Maine boarded a train to Washington D.C. and arrived
the following day. In Washington D.C., Ames nearly lost total control of his temper. After
picking up their new muskets and ammunition from the U.S. Arsenal, the Twentieth Maine,
according to Pullen, wanted to make a grand display. The regimental band began to play as they
marched, but the regiment was so enamored with their new weapons and the music that the
“march turned into a frustrating draggle, with onlookers laughing and old soldiers jeering.”88 No
longer able to contain his emotions, and with his pride likely hurt, Ames shouted, “If you can’t
do any better than you have tonight, you better all desert and go home!”89 Colonel Ames could
handle whizzing shot and shells, but humiliation was an entirely different challenge; he was
almost entirely exasperated with his new command.
Assigned to a six-regiment brigade under the command of Daniel Butterfield, the
Twentieth Maine found themselves alongside veteran and seasoned soldiers who, like Ames, had
fought and bled during the Peninsula Campaign earlier that year. Butterfield’s brigade was in the
William E.S. Whitman and Charles H. True, Maine in the War for the Union, 491.
Pullen, The Twentieth Maine, 16.
William E.S. Whitman and Charles H. True, Maine in the War for the Union, 491.
Pullen, The Twentieth Maine, 18.
Ibid., 19
same corps that Ames had fought in earlier, the Fifth Corps under the command of General FitzJohn Porter.90 The first month of the Twentieth Maine’s existence had been trying for the green
recruits as well as their commander. Both the best and the worst qualities of Ames were on
display in the month of August 1862. His brash behavior and perfectionistic tendencies alienated
his own troops. At the same time, Ames demonstrated his ability to instruct the rank and file
while also providing tactical mentorship to his officers—giving them an accelerated course in
military leadership. This was just one of many instances in which Ames, and young officers like
him, were placed in positions of difficulty and succeeded. The first several weeks of Colonel
Ames and the Twentieth Maine’s partnership were not pretty, but it would ultimately benefit
both parties as well as the Union itself.
Ames ed. Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century13., O.R., Series I, Vol., XIX, Part I, 169-175.
Chapter 2- Becoming a Boy General.
Colonel Ames was familiar with the perils and chaos of combat. Having fought in one of
the more disorderly battles of the war in First Bull Run, the ambitious officer understood the
importance of discipline. After fighting during the Peninsula Campaign, Ames had seen the
value of training and the importance of remaining calm and resolute under enemy fire. Discipline
and steadfastness defined Ames, and his start with the Twentieth Maine was rocky at best. His
methods were not popular, but it did help equip his regiment and led to their support and praise.
As the regiment prepared for the upcoming campaigns of 1862-1863, the green recruits and their
commander faced challenges and adversity far greater than they could have anticipated.
The Twentieth Maine would ultimately face a blistering baptism under fire, but their
introduction to the carnage and chaos had to wait. On September 17, 1862, the Army of the
Potomac and the Army of Northern Virginia clashed along Antietam Creek outside of
Sharpsburg, Maryland. The most significant battle during the Maryland Campaign of 1862,
Antietam proved to be the bloodiest single-day battle in American history with casualties
exceeding 22,000.1 In the end, Robert E. Lee and his Confederate force to withdrawl from Union
soil, but the Union Army failed to truly capitalize on the situation against an outnumbered foe.
This was just one of many blunders under the command of George. B. McClellan.
For a majority of the battle, Ames and his regiment remained in reserve with most the
Porter’s Fifth Corps. They saw minimal action, as they spent most of the battle on the opposite
side of Antietam Creek, yet a number of the Twentieth Maine’s officers believed that they were
actual participants in the engagement. Ames disagreed. In a letter home to his parents, Ames
James M. McPherson, Crossroads of Freedom: Antietam, The Battle That Changed the Course of the
Civil War. (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002), 3.
exuded both impatience and frustration. “As for being in the battles in this vicinity,” he wrote, “I
have to say—my officers think we were in (a little at least) but I do not think we were in enough
to speak of it.”2 As doubtful as Ames may have felt about his command, the young Colonel
wanted to fight and continued to display his revulsion for inactivity that he expressed during
earlier campaigns.3 Quite often during the interim between engagements and in times of
inactivity, Ames continued to train his soldiers and did his utmost to prepare them.
While some of Ames’ subordinates in the Twentieth Maine had begun to alter their
perspective regarding their colonel, many still viewed him through a prism that painted him as an
overbearing, draconian disciplinarian. However, his superiors viewed Ames as an exceptional
talent, a superior officer, and even though he had yet to command his regiment in battle, the
young officer received glowing praise from Union generals who became aware of the Mainer’s
attributes. In a letter to Vice President Hannibal Hamlin on November 16, 1862, Major General
Joseph Hooker, who had great influence at the time, wrote a glowing letter about Ames:
Young Ames was of my command last winter, in charge of a Battery, and I
assure you gained my esteem and confidence for his intelligence, zeal, and
devotion to duties. Since he has had the honor to command a Regiment he
has displayed no less capacity and excellence. He is now of my Division and
it would be me great satisfaction to have him advanced…I know of no
officer of more promise, and should he be promoted I feel no doubt but that
he will reflect great credit upon himself and his state. You will have no
cause to regret any assistance you may be able to render this young officer.4
A week later, a second letter directed towards Vice President Hamlin recommended
Ames for promotion. Brigadier General Hiram Berry, who was a native Mainer and had worked
closely with Ames, knew the officer personally and was well aware of his many talents and
Blanche Butler Ames ed. Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century: Family Letters of Blanche Butler
and Adelbert Ames Volume I, 1861-1874, (Privately Issued by Colonial Press Inc., Clinton: MA, 1957), 14.
Ibid., 14.
“Joseph Hooker to Hannibal Hamlin, November 16, 1862,” Ames Family Papers, Smith College,
Northampton, MA.
skills. With the death of General Charles David Jameson on November 6, 1862, there was an
opening for a brigadier generalship in the Army of the Potomac. Hoping to promote a fellow
Mainer, Berry believed that Ames would represent the state of Maine as well as provide the army
with a gifted and impressive young general:
I find no name that stands higher than that of Colonel Ames of the 20th
[Maine]. I am well aware that his appointment to a higher position at this
time may be considered hurried and premature by some—still in the present
emergency of our country such considerations should not avail. Colonel
Ames is a soldier and a good one. He has already won a name, by his
bravery and skill on the battle-field, that any man may well be proud of…He
has the benefit of an excellent Military education, is brave, intelligent,
intrepid, and devoted—and is also an excellent disciplinarian.5
As high ranking officers lauded Ames, the most senior officer in the Army of the
Potomac was relieved of his command. In early November, President Abraham Lincoln removed
McClellan from his duties and replaced him with General Ambrose E. Burnside. Burnside was
considered a likable solider who had fought at First Bull Run and Antietam, but by most
standards he was an average soldier at best.6 As Ames and his regiment remained in camp in
Falmouth Virginia, between Washington and the Rappahannock River, Burnside assumed
command of the army. The upcoming battle brought misery and exasperation to the Union, and
in addition, it would also test the mettle and resolve of Colonel Ames and his inexperienced
On the heights west of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Robert E. Lee and the Army of Northern
Virginia assumed positions along the ridges and hills on the opposite side of the Rappahannock.
With nearly 80,000 troops accounted for, Lee and his army held strong strategic positions south
“Hiram Berry to Hannibal Hamlin, November 24, 1862,” Ames Family Papers, Smith College,
Northampton, MA.
Harry King Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876. (Dissertation, University of
Virginia, Charlottesville: Proquest/UVA, 1975), 46.
at the crest of Prospect Hill and along Marye’s Heights just outside of the city.7 The
Confederates had constructed earthworks and awaited the Union advance that would ultimately
have to cross an open field sated of obstacles with Confederate batteries positioned to rake the
terrain with lethal fire. According to sources, Burnside did not have a detailed plan of attack.
Francis Winthrop Palfrey described Burnside’s strategy or lack thereof, “He abandoned strategy,
and tied himself down to narrow tactical possibilities, and cross as he did, it was simply a
question whether his attack or attacks should be more or less directly in front.”8
On December 11, Union engineers began to construct bridges for the river crossing.
However, due to the expert marksmanship and tenacity of a lone Confederate brigade, primarily
comprised of Mississippians, the Union Army was not able to enter Fredericksburg until later
that day and not until opening fire on the city with their batteries on the heights northeast of the
town.9 Once the Confederates withdrew from the city, the Union spent the next two days
bringing across the infantry divisions that would make the futile and dangerous advance across
the open fields to Marye’s Heights.
The Battle of Fredericksburg became a debacle. The colossal failure and the carnage fell
directly on Burnside. On December 13, 1862, which began with a misty morning and low
visibility, the Union commander ordered wave after wave of troops to march against the
Confederate defenses. The casualties quickly mounted, yet the Union forces continued to send
brigade after brigade against the earthworks and stone wall of Marye’s Heights.10 “As they
[Union troops] came within reach of this brigade,” Confederate James Longstreet recalled, “a
Ibid., 101.
F.W. Palfrey, The Antietam and Fredericksburg, (Edison, NJ: Castle Books, 2002, originally published in
1882), 141
Ibid., 143.
James Longstreet, “The Battle of Fredericksburg”, in Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough
Buel’s, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III, (Secaucus, NJ: Castle Books, 1887), 75.
Palfrey, The Antietam and Fredericksburg, 143.
storm of lead was poured into their advancing ranks and they were swept from the field like
chaff before the wind.”11 Even though the Confederate infantry and artillery were unloading their
ordnance with astounding volume and veracity, fresh Union troops continued to march forward.
“Hardly was this attack off the field,” Longstreet continued, “before we saw the determined
Federals again filing out of Fredericksburg and preparing for another charge.”12 The battlefield,
littered with the dead and the dying, forced the final waves of Union troops to maneuver over the
thousands of casualties that impeded their advance.
As the afternoon began to wane, the Twentieth Maine and the entire division, under the
command of Ames’ former captain, now general, Charles Griffin, received their orders to move
forward. In between the battles of Antietam and Fredericksburg, Ames had continued to train his
officers and enlisted men. Ames, well aware that discipline and obedience were essential for the
regiment’s success and survival, continued to instruct his troops, and most notably, the
regiment’s highly respected second in command, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.13 While the
regiment’s first experience in the heat of battle would test both officer and enlisted man, their
natural ruggedness as Mainers and highly disciplined training helped ensure the survival of
many. According to Theodore Gerrish of the Twentieth Maine, “This was our first baptism of
fire that our regiment ever received, but with the inspiration derived from such a man as Colonel
Ames, it was a very easy thing to face danger and death.”14 Although the regiment would go on
to fight in a number of pivotal and gruesome battles, and Ames would participate in significant
Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel’s, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War,
Volume III, 79.
Ibid., 79.
Alice Rains Trulock, In the Hands of Providence: Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the American Civil
War, (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 1992), 77.
Theodore Gerrish, Army Life: A Private’s Reminiscences of the Civil War, (Portland, ME: Hoyt, Fogg,
& Donkham, 1882), 77.
campaigns in the future, Fredericksburg proved to be arguably the most important battle for both
the Colonel and his command.
Waiting along the corridors of Fredericksburg’s war-torn streets, Ames received orders
from Griffin that the third brigade was to advance. Along with the Eighty-Third Pennsylvania,
Sixteenth Michigan, and Twelfth, Seventeenth, and Forty-Fourth New York, the Twentieth
Maine awaited the bugler’s call. Upon hearing the signal, Ames yelled over the cacophony of
battle, “Forward the Twentieth!” However, as if the attack was not going to be difficult enough,
two of the New York regiments on Ames’ right did not hear the order. Thus, the Twentieth
Maine surged towards Marye’s Heights with their right flank exposed.15
Like the previous assaults, the Union troops fell victim to disorganization and
overpowering fire. Having to cross over railroad tracks, break through fences, and pass through a
ditch brimming with two feet of ice water, the regiments’ columns understandably broke down
and the officers did their best to quickly reestablish lines of battle.16 The Confederate artillery
fired and resounded in its destructiveness. Lieutenant Colonel Chamberlain noted that, “The
artillery fire wrecked havoc. Crushed bodies, severed limbs, were everywhere.”17 Ames quickly
asserted himself at the head of the regiment, and as Chamberlain recalled, Ames motioned his
second in command to the right flank, while he “went to the front, into the storm.”18
As the regiment pushed forward towards the hail of lead, an officer on the field described
the Twentieth Maine’s advance. “Once I looked over my shoulder. I saw the Twentieth Maine,
which was in our division, coming across the field in line of battle, as upon a parade, easily
recognized by their new state colors, the great gaps plainly visible as the shot and shell tore
Trulock, In the Hands of Providence, 95.
Ibid. 95
Joshua L. Chamberlain, “My Story of Fredericksburg,” Cosmopolitan Magazine, Vol. 54, 148-159,
1913), 152.
Ibid., 153
through the now tremulous line,” the soldier recalled. “It was a grand sight,” he continued, “and
a striking example of what discipline will do for such material in such a battle.19
The Soldier went on to describe Ames singularly:
Shortly after, a tall, slim colonel coolly walked over our bodies. “Who
commands this regiment?” he asked. Our colonel responded. “I will move
over your line and relieve your men,” he quietly rejoined. It was Colonel
Adelbert Ames…We fell back through the lines a few yards. The Twentieth
Maine swept forward, and as it was its first engagement the rattle and roar
instantly grew furious.20
The blazing and relentless fire from the Confederate position once again stalled and
shredded the oncoming regiments. With no support on their right, the Twentieth Maine
continued their advance led by their intrepid colonel who, with his sword drawn, remained at the
pinnacle of the Union attack. “On we pushed,” Chamberlain described, “up slopes slippery with
blood, miry with repeated unavailing tread. We reached the final crest, before that allcommanding, countermanding stone wall.”21 As darkness began to fall on the battlefield, Ames
directed the Twentieth Maine to open fire. As both sides exchanged volleys, the Mainers fell
down on the hard, bloody, frosty soil in order to avoid being slaughtered as they returned fire.
Lying alongside their fallen comrades, Ames and his regiment faced a blistering exchange of
gunfire. As Chamberlain notes, “The situation was critical. We took warrant of supreme
necessity. We laid up a breastwork of dead bodies, to cover our exposed flank. Behind this we
managed to live through the day.”22 As the Twentieth Maine spent the entire evening on the icy
battlefield, bullets from the unrelenting Confederate defenses thudded into the corpses that
provided shelter, and a gruesome form of insulation, for the living.
Robert G. Carter, Four Brothers in Blue: Or Sunshine and Shadows of the War of the Rebellion,
(Washington D.C., Gibson Brothers, 1913,) 196.
Ibid., 196.
Chamberlain, “My Story of Fredericksburg,” 153.
Ibid., 156
The Twentieth Maine, enduring the frigid temperatures, received orders to hold fast. With
no relief coming their way, Ames and his officers did their best to keep the regiment intact and
protected. According to Colonel T.B.W. Stockton, the regimental and brigade commanders were
told “that we must hold our positions until 10 o’clock next day, when the Ninth Corps would
attack.”23 In the same report, Stockton made note of the precarious and dangerous position of
Ames and his command. “The enemy’s sharpshooters were very vigilant, and had evidently
obtained such a position that they could almost fire upon the men when lying down.”24
Following the harrowing evening, between 200-300 Confederate sharpshooters attempted to
move closer to the stranded Federals in order to pepper the troops with an even more suppressive
dose of lead. However, Ames and his troops, with the aid of the other regiments marooned on the
open battlefield, turned them aside.25 As darkness fell once again, the survivors of the Twentieth
Maine, albeit cold and exhausted, remained steadfast.
At last, the Union high command ordered the attacks to desist. Although, when the orders
reached the regiment, the Twentieth Maine in particular did not return to Fredericksburg
immediately. Covered with mud and using only their bayonets, the Mainer’s buried their dead in
shallow graves, erecting small headstones by using broken musket butts.26 As the Aurora
Borealis made flowing patterns of vivid light in the night sky, the regiment withdrew to the
confines of Fredericksburg, passing corpses of men and horses encircled by ammunition cases
and discarded weapons.27 The next day, Ames received orders to move the Twentieth Maine and
form a picket line on the cusp of the city. Fearing a potential attack from the Confederates,
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXI, Part I, 411-412.
Ibid., 411-412.
Ibid. 411-412.,
John J. Pullen, The Twentieth Maine: A Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War, (Philadelphia, PA: J.B.
Lippincott Company, 1957), 55.
Pullen, The Twentieth Maine, 55.
Pullen, The Twentieth Maine, 56.
particularly Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s regiments, the Twentieth Maine prepared for the
worst. Fortunately, the attack never commenced as anticipated, and Ames led a systematic
withdraw from their picket position all the way across the Rappahannock River.28
As Benson notes in his dissertation on Ames, “Under the most difficult conditions, the
20th Maine had received its baptism of fire and proven its mettle. In the process, the men of the
regiment gained a new respect for their commander.”29 In a strenuous scenario, Ames calmly
handled his tasks and inspired his men. Even during a dark chapter for the Army of the Potomac,
Ames, and officers like him, exhibited poise and intelligence when their superiors did not. The
defeat marked a low point for the morale of the Army of the Potomac. The army, “always better
than its commanders, always ready to ‘stand in the evil hour’”, again suffered defeat at the hands
of their southern foe.30 Yet, even though the Twentieth Maine lamented the loss as much as their
fellow Yankees did, the Battle of Fredericksburg induced a sense of pride and accomplishment.
Ames was extremely satisfied with the valor and conduct of his regiment. He wrote home
admitting that his men had doubts in him, but, “at that battle the feelings in the regiment changed
completely. I was the only Colonel in the brigade who went in front of his regiment and led his
men into the fight.”31 Ames went on to say that, “My men now have confidence in me; and the
battle taught them the necessity of discipline.”32
The Battle of Fredericksburg tested the regiment and its young commander, and while
noteworthy praise was directed to both, the battle ultimately served as a period of maturation for
both regiment and colonel.33 Naturally, the battle had a profound impact on the regiment because
Chamberlain, “My Story of Fredericksburg,” 156-157.
Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 49.
Palfrey, The Antietam and Fredericksburg, 190.
Ames ed. Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century, 16.
Ibid., 16.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXII, Part I, 405-406, 411-412.
it was the first in which they had seen significant action. However, Fredericksburg changed both
the rank and file private as well as the West Point Colonel. After experiencing such a terrifying
and trying ordeal, the regiment acknowledged, as Ames alluded to in his letter, that their Colonel
may actually know what he was doing and that the training and staunch discipline inflicted upon
them was vital to their survival. At the same time, Ames’ perspective changed. These men were
no longer a rabble of inexperienced lumberjacks and fisherman that needed reprimanding, they
were soldiers who had fought admirably and deserved his respect.
A newly gained mutual respect between Ames and his command was timely as the winter
of 1862-1863 was a demoralizing one as a whole for the Union. In January 1863, General
Burnside attempted another crossing of the Rappahannock. The operation quickly became
another failure as the army because ensnared by a quagmire of mud and sludge. Meanwhile, the
Confederates on the other side of the river literally laughed and jeered at the Federal misfortune.
Following the failed march, the Twentieth Maine and the Army of the Potomac settled into their
winter quarters. The men constructed wooden huts to protect themselves from the bitterly cold
winter. Other than participating in the construction of roads and picket duty, the winter of 186263 was uneventful for Ames and his regiment.34
As both sides waited with great anticipation for spring to arrive, Ames wrote to his
parents expressing optimism in his future and pride in his regiment. “My regiment has an
excellent reputation,” Ames noted. “I cannot ask for better success than what I have had.”
Additionally, Ames wrote with assurance that a promotion would arrive. “I consider my chances
for a promotion very good. Gens. Hooker, Howard, and Berry have given me strong letters. Gov.
Pullen, The Twentieth Maine, 63-68.
Washburn has written to the Secretary of War and aids me all he can.”35 A combination of skill
and support assisted Ames in his advancement.
One of Ames’ staunch advocates for promotion, Major General Joseph Hooker, received
a promotion himself during the winter months of that year. Replacing the inept Burnside,
“Fighting Joe” Hooker displayed a level of bold aggressiveness that, in the opinion of most, his
predecessors had lacked. While an excellent corps commander, he was not an ideal fit for an
army commander. In fact, the same boldness that made him an ideal candidate in the eyes of
many, dissipated when he faced the difficult task of commanding tens of thousands rather than
merely several. Nevertheless, Hooker began a military operation in the spring of 1863 that yet
again delivered the North another demoralizing defeat.
During the changes made at the top of the Union command, Ames faced the possibility of
missing yet another engagement. To the disdain of the ambitious Colonel, he had watched most
of the battles during the Peninsula Campaign, Second Bull Run, and Antietam pass him by. As
the Army of the Potomac prepared to launch a new campaign, Ames remained in camp with his
regiment. The Twentieth Maine received inoculations, rather than vaccinations, against the lethal
scourge of smallpox. Thus deemed unfit for duty, the regiment remained confined to their
camp.36 Ames had no patience for inactivity, and the Colonel desperately sought an escape from
his figurative prison. He contacted Major General Daniel Butterfield, hoping to join an active
unit, but apparently Butterfield misunderstood Ames to some degree. In a letter seeking to
clarify, Ames pleaded his case. “It seems unnecessary for all the field officers of the Regiment to
remain in charge of a hospital camp, especially when it is earnestly recommended by the surgeon
Adelbert Ames to Martha and Jesse Ames, Hd. Qrs. 20th Maine Camp near Falmouth VA., January 10,
1863, Ames family papers, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 109.
that as few officers as possible should be thus detained.”37 Furthermore, Ames went on to note
that he lamented the notion of serving without his regiment, he cared for his command, but he
felt that it was his duty to serve if he felt able to do so.38
While Ames contacted Butterfield directly, he also received assistance from notable
generals in the army who wrote directly to Joseph Hooker. “I beg leave to call to your favorable
attention Colonel Ames, 20th Maine,” Charles Griffin wrote, “to add to all he is able and
ambitious and has that pride as a soldier which always brings successful results.”39 In a letter
dated April 19, 1863, Major General O.O. Howard referenced and supported Griffin’s claims in
his own letter. Describing Ames as “one of our most able and efficient officers,” Howard
suggested that while the Twentieth Maine remained in camp the army could benefit from Ames
serving elsewhere. “If there is a Brigade for him in the Army I know of no officer who would
command it better.”40 Eventually, Ames received his desired outcome. Told that he could report
to a different command if his regiment remained unfit, Ames ultimately did so, serving on the
staff of Major General George Gordon Meade of the Fifth Corps during the Battle of
In what would become a major Union defeat in an unforgiving wilderness, the Union
Army once again forfeited the field of battle to a numerically inferior foe. Chancellorsville
inflicted over 17,000 casualties for the Federals, and forced another retreat across the familiar
Adelbert Ames to Daniel Butterfield, near Falmouth, Virginia, April 10, 1863, Ames Family Papers,
Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Ames ed. Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century, 17.
“O.O. Howard to Joseph Hooker, Head Quarters Eleventh Corps, Army of the Potomac, April 19, 1863,”
Ames family papers, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Ames ed. Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century, 19.
Rappahannock River. It was an embarrassing battle for the Union army, one that included
humiliating retreats and tentative decisions from its most superiors officers yet again.42
It was a particularly dark time for two of Ames’ prominent supporters. O.O. Howard and
his Eleventh Corps endured a shameful reputation when Stonewall Jackson’s troops turned the
unprotected flank of the Union army and sent Howard’s troops running on May 2, 1863.
Although Howard had received word from Hooker of the possible Confederate advance, the
Eleventh Corps’ commander did not make any effort to form a line of defense nor even post
pickets.43 The next day, General Hiram Berry and his division retreated under the pressure of a
Confederate attack. However, Berry remained on the battlefield. A sharpshooter’s bullet felled
the officer in the early morning hours.44 Once Berry died, his entire division began to weaken
and before long his former division retreated. The lack of ammunition and the unfortunate retreat
of some key units determined the outcome of the fighting on May 3.
Although the army withdrew in the wake of another loss, Third Corps commander, Major
General Daniel Sickles, applauded the efforts of the troops. “The most difficult and painful of
duties remains to be performed, a tribute to the fallen and the just commendation of those most
distinguished for good conduct.” Sickles went on to say that, “I shall fail in giving adequate
expression to the obligations I feel toward division, brigade, regimental and battery
commanders.”45 Other more reputable officers, like General Darius N. Couch and Winfield Scott
Hancock, shared similar sentiments as they lauded the courage of their troops even during a
Abner Doubleday, Campaigns of the Civil War: Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, (Edison, NJ: Castle
Books, 188),. 34, 55.
Ibid., 29-34.
Ibid., 49
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXV, Part I, 394.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXV, Part I, 308, O.R., Series I, Vol., XXV, Part I, 315-316.
During the battle, Ames admirably served General George G. Meade, a leader who
displayed his abilities at the Battles of South Mountain and Fredericksburg, and the Fifth Corps.
The corps served with distinction during the engagement. Meade lauded the conduct and actions
of his men, noting, “It is such a service as this that tries and makes the real soldier.”47 In his
official report, Meade expressed his gratefulness for the gallantry of his staff officers, including
Ames. “I desire to call particular attention to the intelligence and zeal exhibited by LieutenantColonel Webb, assistant inspector-general, and Colonel Ames, Twentieth Maine, throughout the
whole of the operations.”48 One of Ames’ duties during the campaign was to command a guard
that protected a vital telegraph line to Washington during the Union’s retreat.49 Repeatedly
praised, Ames garnered recognition for service and yet again received a promotion.
Due to his gallant service during Chancellorsville, and with his name being pressed by
his superiors, Ames received the rank of brigadier general in the U.S. Volunteers on May 20,
1863.50 At the age of 27, Ames became one of the youngest generals in the entire Union Army.
One of the first young officers in a distinctive group known as the “boy generals”, Ames, along
with Judson Kilpatrick, Wesley Merritt, Elon Farnsworth, and George Armstrong Custer played
important roles in the upcoming campaign, a military operation which impacted the war far
greater than most others. Even though Ames received a promotion and a new command, his
loyalty to the Twentieth Maine compelled him to know that regiment was going to remain in
good hands. Ames thought highly of Chamberlain, and the former lieutenant colonel
appropriately received a new commission as colonel and commanding officer of the Twentieth
Maine. Although Ames moved on from the Twentieth Maine, his impact and influence
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXV, Part I, 509.
Ibid., 509.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXV, Part I, 519.
George W. Cullum, ed., Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military
Academy (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1891) II, 772.
remained—the regiment continued to maintain the highest form of discipline and drilled twice a
Assigned to the Eleventh Corps, Brigadier General Ames assumed command of the
second brigade of the first division.52 Comprised of three regiments from Ohio and one from the
New England state of Connecticut, the regiments had a 27 year old brigade commander in Ames,
who reported to a 29 year old division commander, Brigadier General Francis Channing Barlow.
While admittedly young for their positions, both officers were experienced, and “with his usual
display of confidence and energy, Ames was determined to show that he was capable of handling
the assignment.”53 In a New York Times article published three days after Ames’ promotion,
newspaperman L.L. Crounse described how once again the Union forces had floundered during
Chancellorsville. However, while he berated the conduct of the Eleventh Corps, the war
correspondent took a paragraph to applaud the promotion of the Corps’ new and capable
brigadier general. “Col. Adelbert Ames, of the Twentieth Maine regiment, yesterday received his
appointment as Brigadier-General,” Crounse wrote. “This is fitly bestowed. If all our
appointments had as much merit as this, there would be fewer instances of incompetency and
neglect of duty.”54
After assuming command of the brigade, Ames received orders to join Major General
Alfred Pleasanton’s Calvary Corps as a special, independent attachment. Upon achieving
massive success in consecutive battles, Robert E. Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia, as they
had done in 1862, marched northward, hoping to carry the offensive onto northern soil.
Thomas A. Desjardin, Stand Firm Ye Boys From Maine: The 20th Maine and the Gettysburg Campaign,
(New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009), 18.
Doubleday, Campaigns of the Civil War, 218, O.R., Series I, Vol., XXV, Part II, 582.
Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 52.
L.L. Crounse, “The Army of the Potomac: An Explanation The Conduct of Gen. Schurz's Corps in the
Battle at Chancellorsville, Miscellaneous Items,” New York Times, May 28, 1863.
Pleasanton’s cavalry, along with Ames’ infantry, received instructions from Joseph Hooker to
ascertain the whereabouts of Lee’s army and General J.E.B. Stuarts cavalry.55 What transpired
was the largest cavalry battle of the war and the first in which Ames led his new brigade of
Supporting Brigadier General John Buford’s First Cavalry Division, Ames and his
infantry brigade served admirably during the Battle of Brandy Station and another engagement
known as Beverly Ford.56 Both sides claimed victory. J.E.B. Stuart asserted that the Confederates
were victorious due to the fact that they held the field at the end of the day and repulsed
Pleasanton’s attack. However, the aftermath proved more favorable to the Union. While
Pleasanton was criticized for not being aggressive enough with his cavalry, the battle diminished
the efficiency of the Confederate Cavalry, separating the reconnaissance wing of Robert E. Lee’s
army from the main body and enticing Stuart to make rash movements to reaffirm the ability of
his cavalry. Thus, Lee and his army, while shielded from the Federal forces marching parallel to
them on the other side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, could not rely on desperately need
intelligence as they invaded the Union states of Maryland and Pennsylvania.57
General Ames and his brigade played a pivotal role in the engagement fought primarily
by horseman. According to Pleasanton’s report, Buford’s division, including Ames’ infantry,
played a decisive role in the contest, bearing much of the responsibility of driving Stuart’s
cavalry from its strongest positions.58 In Ames’ report, the young brigadier general noted that, “a
very superior force of the enemy’s infantry and cavalry was discovered,” and his troops engaged
Doubleday, Campaigns of the Civil War, 80.
Ibid., 82-84.
Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 123-125.
Doubleday, Campaigns of the Civil War, 84.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXVII, Part I, 903-904.
the enemy for the latter half of the ten hour battle.59 As a new brigade commander, Ames served
admirably leading an independent infantry unit alongside cavalry. In his official report dated
June 15, 1863, Pleasanton mentioned the new brigadier:
To Brigadier-Generals Russell and Ames, with their respective
commands, I am under many obligations for the effective cooperation they gave at all times. The marked manner in which
General Ames held and managed his troops under a galling fire of
the enemy for several hours, is entitled to higher commendation
than I can bestow.60
The valuable information quickly arrived at General Hooker’s headquarters. Hooker
considered the information vital enough to thwart the Confederate advance. 61 As the month of
June concluded, Ames and his brigade had returned to the Eleventh Corps, and Hooker was
relieved of command, replaced by Major General George G. Meade who first met Ames during
the Battle of Chancellorsville. Continuing the march north to intercept Lee’s invasion, the Army
of the Potomac remained between Lee and the cities of Baltimore and Washington D.C. while
Lee and his forces had already entered Pennsylvania—in close proximity to York and the state
capitol of Harrisburg. On July 1, 1863, both sides met at the sleepy town of Gettysburg,
Pennsylvania. Ironically, the Union army approached the cross-road laden town from the south
while the Confederates entered the village from the north.
In the early morning hours of July 1, 1863, the Battle of Gettysburg commenced. Initially
fought between dismounted Federal cavalrymen and brigades from General Henry Heth’s
Confederate infantry division, the battle soon blossomed into a full-scale engagement when
Union infantry under the command of General John F. Reynolds arrived on the field. Ames’
brigade arrived that morning, and along with the Eleventh Corps, marched to the north and east
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXVII, Part III, 1043.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXVII, Part III, 1046.
Doubleday, Campaigns of the Civil War, 84.
of the town to engage the arrival of General Richard S. Ewell’s Rebel force. However, the day
quickly turned against the Union troops. Ames and his command faced an opponent with
superior numbers and nearly became their captives. Although General O.O. Howard, who
assumed command of all troops on the field after General Reynolds’ death, requested that
Generals Sickles and Slocum make haste to the battlefield to reinforce the line, the Union
positions quickly succumbed.62
Ames and his brigade had marched to the north of Gettysburg near a rise called Blocher’s
Knoll and engaged in fierce fighting during the oppressive heat of the July day. Ames’ brigade
and the entire division fought valiantly while facing a numerically superior enemy that sent
torrents of lead into the Union lines.63 As the Eleventh Corps was on the precipice of crumbling,
like they had done at the previous battle of Chancellorsville, Ames faced another challenge that
thrust him into a difficult role that he struggled to manage.
“At this time,” Ames noted in his official report, “General Barlow was wounded, and the
command of the division devolved upon me. The whole division was falling back with little or
no regularity, regimental organizations having become destroyed.”64 General Ames left his
brigade in command of the capable Colonel Andrew L. Harris of Ohio while the defacto division
commander tried his utmost to keep the division intact. Howard issued orders for a retreat around
4 pm that afternoon, urging his officers to lead an orderly retreat that disputed every inch of
soil.65 While officers like Ames exhorted every ounce of effort in preventing a disorganized
retreat, the day nearly ended in a rout of the Union troops. As Union soldiers spilled into the
modest municipality of Gettysburg, streams of retreating Federals mixed together which broke
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXVII, Part I, 701-705.
O.O. Howard, Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, (New York: NY, The Baker and Taylor Company,
1907), 416-418.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXVII, Part I, 712-713.
Howard, Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, 418-419.
down organization and contributed to chaos and confusion.66 In his autobiography, Howard
applauded the efforts of the troops on the field—First and Eleventh Corps and Buford’s cavalry
division who had fought admirably against difficult odds. Nevertheless, the retreat was
embarrassing and the losses were significant.
Fortunately, Howard left a division from the Eleventh Corps in reserve on the heights of a
geographic rise known as Cemetery Hill. As the Confederate advance slowed, the Second, Third,
and Twelfth Corps of the Army of the Potomac arrived, reinforcing and extending the Union line
along the hills and ridges outside the town.67 Ames’ division dug in along the eastern crest of
Cemetery Hill. Supported by artillery, and with a portion of his troops behind a stone wall, Ames
oversaw the casualty reports of his command. Ames’ brigade, by the end of the day, reported that
only 650 men were fit for duty.68 While the fighting did inflict serious losses, a significant
number of men from Ames’ division were now prisoners of the Confederate army which was
camped in and around the town.
The first day of the battle encapsulated both the best and worst aspects of Ames’
character and leadership. In dire circumstances, and thrust into precarious scenarios, Ames
remained cool and calm under the mounting pressure.69 During his military career, whenever
Ames was thrust into situations of grave importance, he never broke under pressure. Although
his lines eventually gave way, Ames aptly managed the situation as best as was possible. Colonel
Charles S. Wainwright, an artillery commander on Cemetery Hill who served meritoriously and
alongside Ames during the battle, described the Mainer as both a gentleman and the ideal soldier,
Ibid. 418-419.
O.O. Howard, “General Howards Official Report,” in Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough
Buel’s, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III, (Secaucus, NJ: Castle Books, 1887), 289.
Harry W. Pfanz, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill, (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North
Carolina Press, 1993), 242.
Terry L. Jones, Cemetery Hill: The Struggle for the High Ground, July 1-3, 1863, (Cambridge, MA: Da
Capo Press, 2003), 28.
“the best kind of man to be associated with, cool and clear in his own judgment.”70 Yet at the
same time, Ames exhibited his perfectionist tendencies, mistrust of his soldiers, and slightly
aloof expectations, all of which had impacted his time spent as the colonel of the Twentieth
Maine. Even though his troops had fought their hardest on July 1, Ames minimized their role,
and according to historian Harry W. Pfanz, did them a disservice by not crediting them more.71
Later in the battle, Colonel Samuel S. Carroll of the Second Corps said of Ames, “Damn a man
who has no confidence in his troops.”72 In the case of the Twentieth Maine, Ames eventually
placed greater trust in his command, but Ames, as displayed at Gettysburg, habitually struggled
to put faith in his troops and hold them to realistic standards. July 1 was a trying experience for
Ames and his division, but during the following day Ames and his command yet again bore the
brunt of one of the Confederate attack that threatened to split the flanks of the Union army.
While the most dreadful and vicious fighting on July 2 occurred south of Cemetery Hill,
Ames and his division were equally tested by the resolute attack that the Confederates brought
their way. With a clear view, the troops on Cemetery Hill could see the Confederates amassing
their forces while some portions of the Union line were threadbare at best.73 Looking towards the
southern flank of the Union Army, Robert E. Lee directed General Longstreet’s troops to attack
the left flank of the Union Army. The fighting raged in that section, but the combat to the north
was relatively light. Colonel Andrew L. Harris reported that Ames’ division skirmished with
Confederate sharpshooters until 4 pm that afternoon; Captain John M. Lutz of the 107th Ohio
reported the same.74 Once dusk began to fall, the fighting intensified exponentially.
Ibid., 28.
Pfanz, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill, 242.
Stephen W. Sears, Gettysburg, (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003), 340
Jones, Cemetery Hill, 57-59.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXVII, Part I, 716, O.R., Series I, Vol., XXVII, Part I, 720.
While the early combat on Cemetery Hill consisted of minor skirmishing and probing the
Federal defenses, the evening witnessed a full assault. After lying quietly under cover for most of
the day, General Jubal Early’s troops of Ewell’s Second Corps surged towards Cemetery Hill
after a brief cannonade from the Rebel artillery.75 At 7 pm, Confederate troops from the Bayou
State, known as “Louisiana Tigers,” smashed into Ames’ division, breaking through one of his
brigades.76 While Ames’ original command, the Second Brigade (also known as the Ohio
Brigade) held fast, the other brigade under the command of Colonel Leopold von Gilsa retreated
to the entrenched batteries of Major Osborn of the Eleventh Corps.77 Fortunately for Ames’
command, an 800 man brigade of reinforcements arrived. As Howard notes, “Ames’ men were
assisting them [Eleventh Corps reinforcements] with their rifles, they were wielding hand spikes,
abandoned muskets, sponge staffs, or anything they could seize.”78 Eventually, the batteries were
cleared of any Confederate soldiers, but a large portion of the Eleventh Corps was once again
greatly disorganized.
The remainder of Ames’ division fought valiantly and did not yield. Even when Ames
made the questionable move to shift the Seventieth Connecticut further away from the other
regiment of the Second Brigade to fill a gap left by von Gilsa’s men, the three Ohio regiments
held fast. Multiple accounts described the how von Gilsa’s men, most of them German, panicked
and fled, but not all of the troops under Ames did so. His original brigade, primarily the
Seventeenth Connecticut and Seventy-Fifth Ohio bore the brunt of the Confederate attack and
Howard, Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, 428.
Ibid., 428,
Ibid. 429
Ibid. 429. (Other reports from Eleventh Corps officers reaffirm Howard’s statement O.R., Series I, Vol.,
XXVII, Part I, 722-728).
held their own against the Confederate divisions comprised of North Carolinian and Louisianan
Both sides detailed the tenacity of the fighting. Major Samuel Tate of the Sixth North
Carolina noted that members of his regiment and the Ninth Louisiana scaled the Union positions
and planted their colors on the Union artillery pieces. “The enemy stood with tenacity never
before displayed by them,” Tate reported, “but with bayonet, clubbed musket, sword, pistol and
rocks from the wall [stone wall on Cemetery Ridge] we cleared he heights and silenced the
guns.”80 Initially, the Confederates succeeded, but accounts from officers in Ames’ division
minimized the actual success of the Confederate attack. An officer from 107th Ohio described
the enemy appearing in force as the Louisianans and North Carolinians approached the stone
wall that the Ohioans used to protect themselves. “The enemy made a desperate charge upon us,
but without success. They were repulsed with great loss. It was at this point the regiment
captured a stand of colors from the Eighth Louisiana Tigers,” said Captain John M. Lutz who
found himself in command of one of Ames’ regiments after its Colonel, Seraphim Meyer,
suffered a wound the previous day.81
Quickly, Cemetery Ridge and Ames’ portion of the line became the most vulnerable, yet
important, part of the Union line. With half of his division in shambles and with only
undermanned regiments as support, Ames faced a calamitous situation. His division had held on,
but they had been nearly overrun and still faced an aggressive Confederate attack. Fortunately,
reinforcements from the Second Corps arrived, and regiments under the command of Colonel
Samuel S. Carroll passed by the Cemetery Hill gatehouse and charged the Confederate troops.82
Jones, Cemetery Hill, 82-83.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXVII, Part II, 486.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXVII, Part I, 720.
Pfanz, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill, 273
Carroll’s brigade, in dark of night, helped save the Eleventh Corps and Ames’ position.
However, after his successful charge, Carroll was unaware of his position and whether or not any
organized regiments from the Eleventh remained in the area. When one of Carroll’s couriers
found General Ames, he requested that Carroll remain where he was because he honestly had no
faith in his troops.83 It was at this instance that Carroll damned Ames for not having confidence
in his recently acquired division. Interestingly, O.O. Howard shared the same sentiments as
Ames.84 While portions of the Eleventh Corps, including Ames’ Ohio Brigade, the Seventeenth
Connecticut, and the Thirty-Third Massachusetts fought admirably, the bulk of the Eleventh
Corps was a disorganized rabble that had been driven from their positions.
The vicious fighting finally subdued as both the Union defenders and Confederate
attackers attempted to reorganize their lines and gather stragglers. On both the extreme right and
left of the Union line, the Confederates nearly broke through the Federal defenses. While the
Confederates experienced some success on Cemetery Hill, and captured half of the trenches on
nearby Culp’s Hill, the Union army still held the defensible high ground.85 As Ames’ men rested,
the general accompanied the medical personnel and ambulances as they sought to the hundreds
of wounded soldiers along the hillside.86 During the evening, the corps commanders of the Union
army discussed whether or not to stay and continue the fight. Howard voted yes. Even though his
corps suffered severe casualties during two consecutive days of battle, he believed that, “These
partial successes determined me to continue the assault next day.”87 His divisions, most notably
Ames’, had fought too valiantly to concede the hill they had bled, died, and sacrificed greatly to
maintain. Retreating would be an embarrassment.
Pfanz, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill, 274
Sears, Gettysburg, 340.
Doubleday, Campaigns of the Civil War, 182-183
Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 135.
Howard, Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, 431.
July 3 was a less stressful day for Ames and his command. From their defensive positons,
Ames’ troops skirmished with the Confederate Second Corps.88 Little came from the fighting,
and the Confederate lines withdrew further towards the town. During the day, Cemetery Hill
experienced an artillery barrage as a precursor to the ill-fated charge led by General George E.
Pickett on the Union center. Ames and his troops avoided taking any casualties, but other units in
the Eleventh Corps were not as fortunate.89 At day’s end, the Union army repulsed every
Confederate regiment it faced and the Army of the Potomac still held the coveted high ground.90
The following morning, on a dismal, overcast Independence Day, Ames and his troops along the
crest of Cemetery Hill noticed the lack of noise coming from enemy skirmishers. Sending the
troops to investigate, Ames received word that the Confederates were gone and had retreated
from the battlefield.91 Ames’ troops were the first to enter the town of Gettysburg where just
three days prior they nearly became prisoners. Now they were the victors.
Upon the Army of Northern Virginia’s withdrawal, Ames visited the other portions of the
battlefield. It was during this excursion that Ames came across his old command. In a letter
home, Ames described the surprise:
After three days’ fight I was riding over the field in front of our
works with General Warren of Meade’s staff. Passing some troops I
found soon that cheering and swinging their hats in the air were
being given for one of us. As General Warren [V Corps] was one of
the heroes of the day, I thought it was for him—he told me it was for
me. I found it was the 20th [Maine]. They gave me three times
Pfanz, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill, 357
Howard, Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard, 437
Doubleday, Campaigns of the Civil War,190-196
Pfanz, Gettysburg: Culp’s Hill & Cemetery Hill, 367
Adelbert Ames to Martha and Jesse Ames, August, 1863, Ames Family Papers, Smith College,
Northampton, MA.
Like Ames, the Twentieth Maine endured the vicious Confederate attacks made on July
2. Positioned on Little Round Top, the extreme left flank of the Union army, the regiment faced a
relentless foe storming up the slopes of the mountain. Remaining steadfast and disciplined, the
regiment held their ground against multiple Confederate attacks. Ames’ influence remained with
both enlisted man and officer. Colonel Chamberlain, remembering his mentor’s collected nature
and courageousness, continued to lead by example even as the battle caused great fatigue and
stress.93 Outnumbered three to one, with nearly half of their men dead and wounded, nearly no
rounds of ammunition left, and with no reinforcements, the Twentieth Maine faced yet another
Confederate advance.94 In one of the most storied events of courage during the battle, if not the
war, Colonel Chamberlain ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge down the slope. “Almost
before he [Chamberlain] could yell ‘charge!’ the regiment leaped down the hill and closed in
with the foe,” a veteran remembered.95 The shock of the charge took the surging Confederates by
surprise; the Mainers captured dozens and drove the remaining Confederates down the face of
Little Round Top.96 As John Pullen writes, “It had not been a group of amateurs that had turned
the Confederates back at Little Round Top, but a well-trained and highly effective regiment of
infantry. And who could they thank most for that, if not General Ames?”97
After the battle’s conclusion, Ames sent a warm and praise-laden letter to Chamberlain
applauding him and the entire regiment. I am very proud of the 20th. Regt. and its present
Colonel.” Ames said. “I did want to be with you and see your splendid conduct in the field. God
Bless you and the dear old regiment. My heart yearns for you; and more and more, now that
Desjardin, Stand Firm Ye Boys From Maine, 51
H.S. Melcher, “The 20th Maine at Little Round Top,” in Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence
Clough Buel’s, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume III, 315.
Ibid., 315.
Pullen, The Twentieth Maine, 125.
Ibid., 132.
these trying scenes convince me of your superiority. The pleasure I felt at the intelligence of your
conduct yesterday is some recompense for all that I have suffered.”98
In his letter home after the battle, Ames noted a gift from the officers of his former
command. “The officers of the 20th have now in hand an elegant sword, sash and belt which
they are awaiting for the opportunity to give me. The sword is very elegant.”99 Less than a year
ago, Ames was a battery commander, Chamberlain a college professor, and the rest of the
Twentieth Maine were fisherman and farmers. After 12 months had passed, Ames had risen to
the rank of brigadier general; Chamberlain demonstrated poise and leadership as the regimental
commander, while the regiment had become one of the finest in the army displaying the
discipline instilled in them by Ames. After the Battle of Gettysburg, Ames, his fellow boy
generals, and other exceptional mid-level commanders were quickly becoming the cornerstones
of the Union Army and invaluable leaders on the battlefield.
Ames did not remain in the Eleventh Corps for long. While the majority of the Army of
the Potomac remained dormant for the remainder of 1863, Ames and his brigade received orders
to report to the Department of the South. On August 6, 1863, Ames’ brigade departed to
participate in the siege that the Union Army was waging on Charleston.100 Described as a symbol
of the Southern rebellion, Charleston was a city that the Union believed exuded arrogance and
sedition, and it was a major port that allowed the Confederacy access to the Atlantic Ocean.
Thus, the Union Army desperately wanted to take the city for both tactical and morale
Desjardin, Stand Firm Ye Boys From Maine, 91.
Ames ed. Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century, 20.
Ames ed. Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century, 21.
Rear-Admiral C. R. P. Rodgers, "Du Pont's Attack at Charleston," in Robert Underwood Johnson and
Clarence Clough Buel’s, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, 32.
The Union Army had made two previous attempts to take the port city. In June 1862, the
Union attack on the Confederate defenses failed. Less than a year later, in the spring of 1863, the
Union navy barraged Fort Sumter but did not inflict enough damage to force the abandonment of
the former Federal stronghold. By the summer of 1863, the Union approved of an expedition to
take Morris Island, on the cusp of Charleston’s harbor, and to finally take the besieged city.
Landing on the southern end of the island, the Federal army began its assault on the Confederate
stronghold of Battery Wagner. Interestingly, one of the regiments to participate in the assault was
the famed Fifty-Fourth Massachusetts comprised of free black troops.
As noted in Harry King Benson’s dissertation, the concept of assaulting the Confederate
salient and laying siege to a city did not sit well with an officer with the impatience and
ambitiousness of Ames. Shortly after his arrival, Ames proposed a plan to take Fort Sumter. Fort
Sumter lacked the military importance it once had. Portions of the fort consisted of rubble and
most of the guns were inoperable. Taking the fort, albeit lacking in tactical importance, would
have provided a morale boost for the army and a feather in Ames’ proverbial cap. However, as
noted by some historians, Ames’ plan was countermanded and pushed aside for unknown
reasons but possibly due to jealousy.102 Perhaps it was envy; perhaps it was Ames’ ambitiousness
that irritated his superiors in South Carolina. Nevertheless, Ames and his command remained in
Charleston participating in the siege operations which Ames loathed.
In the future, Ames would spend time in the city of Charleston, a period he enjoyed.
However, siege duty on the humid Morris Island was hellish for Ames, and he made note of it in
his letters home. Lacking supplies, most notably tents, Ames lamented the conditions of his
troops. Many did not have knapsacks and the exposure to the natural elements of the sun, wind,
William E.S. Whitman and Charles H. True, Maine in the War for the Union: A History of the Part
Borne by the Maine Troops in the Suppression of the American Rebellion, (Lewinston, ME: Nelson Dingley Jr. &
Co. Publishers, 1865), 499.
and sea air caused a number of Ames’ men to be sick.103 Other than digging trenches, Ames’
brigade languished in South Carolina. In late November, the army granted Ames a leave of
absence during which he visited Washington D.C. and New York City. By early January,
General Ames returned to his brigade, stationed on Folly Island, where he and his command
remained for several weeks more.104
By the close 1863, an interesting to increase Union strongholds which captured the
attention of even the President of the United States and required the services of Ames and his
brigade. Hoping to encourage a loyal government in the Confederate state of Florida, Lincoln
instructed Ames’ superior, General Quincy Gilmore, to give as much military supervision and
assistance as possible to the operation of asserting a Union presence in Florida. Devoid of a large
Confederate force, and easily accessible for the Union navy, a pro-Union Florida was an
attractive endeavor to pursue.105 With that in mind, Gilmore sent General Truman Seymour to
Jacksonville, Florida on February 5 to help support Lincoln’s plan. Roughly two week
afterwards, a ragged Confederate force at the Battle of Olustee soundly beat the Union
expeditionary army. Losing almost a third of its force, the Department of the South sent an
additional brigade, Ames’, to support the troops in Jacksonville.106 The hope of establishing a
loyal government failed due to poor planning and an opportunity was lost. Afterwards, the Union
force suffered needlessly in the humid brush and forests.
While in Florida, Ames assumed command of his division consisting of three brigades, as
he awaited action of some sort. Considering that military operations were likely to commence in
the Mid-Atlantic once spring began, Ames anticipated the opportunity to once again serve with
Ames ed., Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century, 22.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXXV, Part I, 464.
Samuel Jones, "Battle of Olustee or Ocean Pond," in Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough
Buel’s, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, 76.
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXXV, Part I, 491.
the Army of the Potomac.107 At his current position, a battle seemed unlikely. Breastworks and
defenses encircled the Union position, and an attack would certainly prove disastrous for the
small Confederate force in the area.108 Ames’ overall experience during his two months in
Florida was not necessarily unpleasant. He enjoyed boating and even acquired a carriage to ride
around the city.109 Nevertheless, Ames felt the lack of importance in his role as a protector of a
Floridian city. In a letter home, Ames told his father, “Florida is a place into which the rebels
should be driven, not out of it.”110
During the early spring, senior officers in the Union army sought to bring Ames back to
the Army of the Potomac. As Benson notes, “It was not likely that a commander of Ames' talents
would remain for long thus employed.”111 Initially, Generals Meade and Pleasanton, who both
knew of Ames’ skills and aptitude, asked Lincoln to transfer the young general to the cavalry to
assume command of a division. General Henry W. Halleck, once the commander-in-chief of the
army and now the chief-of-staff, balked at the idea of sending a fine infantry officer like Ames to
the cavalry.112 However, when the Department of the South consolidated into the Tenth Corps in
the spring of 1864, Ames received a new command. Although he would temporarily assume
command of the corps, Ames, for the majority of his time spent in the corps, commanded a
division. Ordered to report to Major General Benjamin F. Butler, commander of the Army of the
James, Ames left Florida on April 15, 1864.113
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, March 8, 1864, Head Quarters division Jacksonville, Florida,
Ames family papers, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, March 20, 1864, Head Quarters division Jacksonville, Florida,
Ames family papers, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, March 27, 1864, Ames Family Papers, Smith College,
Northampton, MA.
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, April 24, 1864, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton,
Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 62.
Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 146.
Ibid. 146.
Ames was elated that he was leaving Florida and returning to the Virginia. He looked
forward to commanding a division in the upcoming campaign. Upon getting his promotion,
Ames received word that his new division was comprised of troops he had never served with nor
commanded. As was the case in the past, the young general would have to overcome the
obstacles he often encountered with a new command, sometimes self-imposed by his strict
standards. As the spring of 1864 began the final chapter of the war, Ames again demonstrated the
worthiness of the praise he received from his superiors, subordinates, and colleagues, as well as
validating the many promotions he received. Epitomizing the young officers that had risen
through the ranks of Union Army, Ames prepared for the upcoming campaign. In a letter home,
Ames appropriately predicted the imminent maneuvers. “Everything will be concentrated in
Virginia for the final struggle,” he said.”114
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, April 24, 1864, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton,
Chapter 3- Scaling Earthworks and Conducting Sieges.
When Ames arrived in Virginia, it was eerily similar to his second major campaign in
which he was a participant two years earlier. The Union amassed an army of over 100,000
troops, and prepared to launch a campaign with the intention of taking the Confederate capitol
and ending the war in a decisive fashion. The campaign would take place in familiar terrain that
featured familiar the tributaries and landmarks of Northern Virginia. However, the leadership of
the Union forces was drastically different. Instead of General McDowell, a newly appointed and
highly anticipated general arrived who President Lincoln believed could deliver victory to the
North. The Peninsula Campaign of 1862 ended with futility. The Overland Campaign, while
demonstrating instances of futility, eventually brought about Union victory and the capitulation
of Robert E. Lee’s skilled and fierce Army of Northern Virginia. For Ames, the campaign
provided tests and brought him praise.
On March 9, 1864, Ulysses S. Grant, who successfully waged war west of the
Appalachian mountain range, became Lieutenant General as well as the commander of all Union
armies.1 As part of his Overland Campaign, Grant intended to use the brute force of his army to
apply unyielding pressure on his weakened foe. Establishing his headquarters with the Army of
the Potomac, Grant prepared for the upcoming series of battles which he hoped would dismantle
the Confederate armies in Virginia. A pivotal extension of Grant’s command was the Army of
the James, stationed in relative proximity to Richmond at Port Monroe. Under the command of
the divisive and controversial General Benjamin Butler, the 36,000 man army had an important
role in Grant’s strategy. The cigar-gnawing Grant envisioned Butler’s army severing any
opportunity for reinforcements to assist Lee while simultaneously threatening Richmond with
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXXII, Part I, 3.
capture (and possibly taking it.) If Grant’s main body of troops experienced difficulties, Butler’s
command could cooperate as an independent extension of the army.
Ames arrived and assumed command of his division. As Benson notes, “Ames, in
command of a division under Butler, performed creditably, if without unusual distinction,
throughout the early stages of the operation.”2 Unfortunately, the campaign, known as Bermuda
Hundred, was maligned for the ineffectiveness and bumbling of its senior officers most notably
Butler and his corps commanders.3 However, Ames did serve credibly, did receive praise for his
actions, and did display self-control as he managed to quell his sometimes volatile temper and
While Grant and his army struggled to break through Lee’s army during the battles of the
Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse, Butler and his army did manage to make progress
towards Richmond. However, believing the Confederate force to be greater and without any
assistance from Grant, Butler grew nervous and withdrew his forces, placing his army in a
narrow piece of land between the James and the Appomattox Rivers (an area known as Bermuda
Hundred.)4 Due to the confines of Butler’s chosen ground, a smaller Confederate army, led by
early war hero P.G.T. Beauregard, tied down Butler’s army and effectively held a large
contingent of Federal troops in check. The campaign created the moniker “Bottled-up” Butler
and was viewed as an abject failure.5 In the end, Butler received criticism as the general in
charge, his corps commanders displayed timidness, and the campaign became one of missed
opportunities with an underwhelming conclusion. While the senior officers in the army received
Harry King Benson The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, (Dissertation, University
Virginia, Charlottesville: Proquest/UVA, 1975), 63.
William Glenn Robertson, Back Door to Richmond: The Bermuda Hundred Campaign, April1864, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1987), 9-10.
Benson The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 63.
Robertson, Back Door to Richmond, 247-248.
scorn, officers like Ames and the enlisted men, according to Edward G. Longacre, “encountered
more than their fair share of adversity and had few victories to sustain them. Still, most served
gamely and effectively to the last, refusing to quit short of that final triumph to which their
fortitude and fidelity entitled them.”6 Without officers like Ames to lead the brigades, the Army
of the James would have suffered far greater from the foolishness of their senior commanders.
The campaign doused in controversy and wrought with stress began with optimism.
Ames wrote home saying, “We are all in hopes this campaign will put Richmond in our hands
and virtually end the war. Grant is confident—so are we all.”7 Interestingly, a letter home from
Ames, dated May 7, aptly described the situation that the Army of the James would be in if the
troops under Grant faltered. “Everything will depend on Grant,” the young division commander
penned. “That is, if he is beaten we shall have to fall back and re-embark. If he beats we shall
here render much assistance in the capture of Richmond.”8 Ames was right in his first assertion.
Grant’s inability to bypass Lee’s army served as the primary reason Butler felt the need to order
the Army of the James’ withdrawal. However, the Army did not “re-embark”, as Ames put it,
thus they rightfully became the subjects of criticism as they were unable to push through a
numerically lesser foe.
Ames’ command participated in several key battles during the campaign, including
Chester Station and Drewry’s Bluff. The second phase of the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff was
possibly the most trying for Ames as his command held a junction called Port Walthall. During
the battle, Ames, protecting the rear guard of the army, was faced with a superior Confederate
Edward G. Longacre, Army of Amateurs: General Benjamin F. Butler and the Army of the James, 18631865, (Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 1997), 325.
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, May 4, 1864,”Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton,
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, May 7, 1864, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton,
force moving towards their position from Petersburg, Virginia. Corps commanders Gilmore and
William Smith struggled to effectively command and their failures, particularly Smith’s,
eventually led to the Union withdraw to Bermuda Hundred. Ames and his command did their
best to protect the rear of the Union army and, forcing the Confederate attack back while also
providing support to other units in the field. At 1:30 in the afternoon of May 16, Ames sent a
message describing his position. “I have pressed the enemy back to the hills beyond the crossing
of the pike and the railroad. There he has taken a position and is now shelling my advance. The
size of my force and the long front I cover do not justify, in my opinion, an effort to attempt to
force the enemy from his position.”9
Fortunately for Ames, the Confederates did not storm his position the following day. This
short engagement resulted in heavy casualties during perhaps the most exhausting and vicious
combat of the campaign.10 3,000 Union soldiers were either killed, wounded or captured.11
General P.G.T. Beauregard displayed his contempt for the order from the War Department to
withdraw his troops to help in the defense of Petersburg for he was, “Then pursuing the enemy,
and still driving him nearer and nearer to his base.”12 Considering Ames’ command was
outnumbered five to one while they protected the rear of the Union line, it was a much
appreciated relief that Confederate forces did not resume their attack. Beauregard assumed that
the Union resistance, particularly the commanders of the Army of the James, were demoralized
and distraught, and he was correct.13 During the night, Union soldiers constructed earthworks
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXXVI, Part II, 837-838.
Robertson, Back Door to Richmond, 217-218.
Ibid., 217.
G.T. Beauregard, General, C.S.A., "The Defense Of Drewery’s Bluff," in Robert Underwood Johnson
and Clarence Clough Buel’s, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, 204.
Ibid, 204.
and Butler’s self-imposed isolation began.14 Although the only direction from which they were
barred movement was the West, the Army of the James did not “re-embark” as Ames assumed
that they would.
Ames and his command remained stationary at Bermuda Hundred until later that month
when they were reassigned to the Army of the Potomac to assist and replenish Grant’s forces
during the bloody Overland Campaign. In later years, Grant regretted the inability of Butler’s
army, admitting that perhaps too much was asked of them, particularly Butler himself.
Interestingly, Grant noted that if he had two corps commanders in the Army of the James
possessing more skill and aptitude than Gilmore or Smith perhaps the campaign would have been
successful. One of the names Grant mentioned, who would have made an ideal commander, was
Ames wrote to his parents, describing his situation at Bermuda Hundred. “We have made
advances towards Petersburg and Richmond,” Ames wrote. “The first resulted in a little fighting,
in which we had the advantage. But the latter was wholly against us.”16 Ames and his troops
were in high spirits, but they wallowed in inactivity. When Ames willingly accepted the order to
join Grant, General Gilmore requested that Ames remain. In a letter to General Butler protesting
the order, Gilmore stated:
The reorganization of Ames’ and Turner’s Division, Tenth Corps, under
strange commanders, will materially diminish the efficiency of those
divisions. On this ground, and this only, I earnestly request that no steps of
the kind be taken or allowed. General Ames and Turner are educated,
accomplished, and efficient soldiers, and have the entire confidence and the
Army of Amateurs: General Benjamin F. Butler and the Army of the James, 1863-1865, 101., O.R.,
Series I, Vol., XXXVI, Part II, 40, 43-44.
Blanche Ames Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, (London, UK:
MacDonald & Company, 1964), 161.
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, May 19, 1864, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton,
most zealous and enthusiastic cooperation of the officers and men of their
commands at all times.17
Although Gilmore attempted to persuade his seniors to allow Ames to remain, his
superiors denied his request. Along with 16,000 soldiers, Ames arrived in Grant’s army just in
time for one of the bloodiest and shamefully managed battles under Grant’s leadership. Many
veterans of the Battle of Cold Harbor disagreed with the decision to engage the enemy. “It never
should have been fought,” argued one survivor. “There was no military reasons to justify it.”18 In
yet another trying engagement, Ames demonstrated his propensity to excel in difficult
circumstances and received another battlefield promotion.
While the maneuvering and countermeasures extended to nearly two weeks in length, the
most demoralizing and violent day during the Union and Confederate’s time at Cold Harbor took
place on June 3, 1864. A member of the Eighteenth Corps, Ames and his command, along with
the Second and Sixth Corps, slowly and steadily began their advance at 4:30 am. There is no
mention of Ames in any report during the battle, nor does he detail the battle in any piece of
correspondence. However, the troops fought admirably in a nearly impossible situation which
was a clear reflection on Ames’ leadership and he would receive a battlefield promotion for his
role (captain in the regular army).19 The volume of fire that Ames and the Eighteenth Corps
encountered during their assault across an open field was blistering. Passing through cover
provided by foliage, the corps came under a heavy cross fire as they marched towards the
entrenched Confederate position.20 The advancing troops experienced volleys of fire that
O.R., Series I, Vol., XXXVI, Part III, 282-283.
Martin T. McMahon, Brevet-Major General, "Cold Harbor," in Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence
Clough Buel’s, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, 213.
Benson The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 65.
William Farrar Smith, Brevet-Major General, "The Eighteenth Corps At Cold Harbor," in Robert
Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel’s, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, 225.
imitated, if not surpassed, the Battle of Fredericksburg. Some troops, such as Barlow’s and
Gibbon’s divisions in Hancock’s Second Corps, charged against lighter defenses but still
suffered heavily. These veteran troops, bogged down by fire and marshy soil, underwent severe
losses and their casualties, along with Smith’s Corps, spread across five acres of land.21 The
carnage was unparalleled in the time in which it occurred. Over 12,000 Federal soldiers became
casualties in less than ten minutes.22 In fact, when General George Meade ordered General
Smith’s Corps, including Ames’ depleted command, to make another assault, Smith refused.23
Perhaps the most demoralizing part of the battle was that debatably the finest troops that
the Army of the Potomac had were shredded in a poorly planned and coordinated attack. Soldiers
that had served in the ranks since the army’s formative months lay dead and dying, many of them
cut in two by the overpowering Confederate cannonade and the crackling muskets of entrenched
infantry men. In their massive volume on President Lincoln and the Civil War, John Nicolay and
John Hay noted that, “Smith, with the Eighteenth Corps, did all brave men could do; his
divisions were torn to rags in their assault.”24
During the months of May and June 1864, the Union Army under Grant suffered
staggering losses. The Battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse had not brought on
the same level of disappointment and bitterness among the Union ranks as did Cold Harbor, but
the loss of life was nonetheless overwhelming. Ames himself, who usually refrained from
criticizing superiors, did begin to question Grant, hoping that he could manage the upcoming
tasks. “I hope he [Grant] will prove equal to the emergency,” Ames wrote.25 Grant himself would
Shelby Foote, The Civil War Narrative: Red River to Appomattox, (New York: NY, Random House,
1974), 292.
McMahon, "Cold Harbor," Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, 217.
Smith "The Eighteenth Corps At Cold Harbor," Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, 227.
Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 165.
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, June 9, 1864, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton,
admit that, “Cold Harbor is, I think, the only battle I ever fought that I would not fight over again
under the circumstances.”26 Undeterred as usual with the loss of life, Grant continued to put his
foot to the proverbial throat. Moving the Army of the Potomac towards the James River, Grant
joined forces with Benjamin Butler’s army. Together, the combined Union army brushed aside
any resistance and marched towards Petersburg. In an impressive fashion, Robert E. Lee
mobilized his army and moved them into position to protect the city of Petersburg. This played
into Grant’s hands. With Lee’s army cornered at Petersburg, Grant’s army encircled the city and
prepared a siege. Ultimately, this move directly led to the capitulation of the Confederate capitol
and Lee’s army.
The siege proved vital for the Union victory and pivotal in the Confederate defeat. Yet,
another siege which required the construction of more earthworks, semi-permanent positions,
and a lack of combat exasperated Ames. His mood turned sour during parts of the Petersburg
siege. Again, he and his command would remain motionless, which happens during war but was
something that the officer could not stand. Ames did write to his parents describing his situation.
“Here we are all hopeful and confident,” Ames wrote. “We are justified in gathering hope
from the fact that the rebels are putting every man, young and old, into the ranks. Their losses
cannot be replaced.”27 His letter on July 10 was perhaps his most joyful of the entire month. In it,
he discussed sending a photograph to a Miss Lowell and the joy of the sinking of the ‘pirate’ ship
the CSS Alabama.28 While slightly optimistic, Ames’ impatience also prompted pessimism.
Ames told his parents he “was well, though a little discontented at the inactivity of our forces.”29
McMahon, "Cold Harbor," Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, 220.
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, July 10, 1864, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton,
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, July 21, 1864, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton,
The impatient pessimism soon gave way to misery. As Benson notes, “Nothing could be more
illustrative of the young soldier's aggressive temperament and impatience with siege type
warfare than the tone of despair which had crept into his letters by the end of the month.”30
Ames admittedly mentioned that he was experiencing depression. His mere inactivity
contributed to it, but also the state of the nation. The Union, exhausted by war, disgusted by the
loss of life, and in the midst of an election year, was rife with raw emotions. In a tirade-laden
letter to his father dated July 30, Ames denounced Lincoln—a man who the Republican Ames
initially supported as the leader of his party. No other letter during his service referenced
Lincoln, but this piece of correspondence, during a despondent time for Ames, did:
Lincoln is not a fit person for the Head of this nation in its hour of trouble
and grief. He evidently has not the nerve or brain needed by one in his high
and responsible station. If I had the opportunity to vote I should vote for
some other candidate, not Fremont, who would insist upon a vigorous
prosecution of the war. We, here, think Mr. Lincoln has prostituted his
authority and responsibility to the vile purpose of self-aggrandizement—his
The Second and Tenth Corps met little success in their endeavors north of the James
River. The Fifth Corps also attempted to determine the Confederate’s strength on the west side of
the encircled city. “I heard the cannonading this afternoon, Ames wrote, “but as no word has
been received in relation to the matter I think our efforts were unsuccessful.”32 Ames reiterated
his unhappiness in the letter’s conclusion. “I cannot tell you how depressed and sad I feel in the
consequence of my belief that the Northern people are to show themselves unworthy the liberty
Benson The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 66.
Blanche Butler Ames ed. Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century: Family Letters of Blanche Butler
and Adelbert Ames Volume I, 1861-1874,( Privately Issued by Colonial Press Inc.,Clinton: MA, 1957), 24.
Interestingly, Ames remained a life-long Republican and, as a member of the Republican Party, served as a senator
and governor in the state of Mississippi during the Reconstruction.
won them by their fathers.”33 Ironically, as Ames grieved his current state of dormancy, one of
the most infamous battles of the war took place that same evening. It was more of a mêlée than a
battle, but one that would feature some of the bloodiest fighting of the siege, and Ames and his
troops would play a role in it.
Following a proposed plan to explode a mine positioned beneath Confederate defenses,
Federal soldiers under the command of Ambrose Burnside ignited a fuse that set off a massive
explosion creating a huge gap, a crater, in the earth. A questionable plan to begin with, the Battle
of the Crater was disastrous. The debris that soared into the air due to the violent explosion
actually impeded the first Union columns that were struck by the soot and sod.34 Union attackers,
many of them black, surged into the crater where chaos and disorganization ensued inflicting
severe losses. According to a Confederate general on the scene “our troops on both flanks and in
the rear had caused many of the enemy to run the gauntlet of our cross-fires in front of the
breach, but a large number still remained unable to advance, and perhaps afraid to retreat.”35 The
debacle, highly noted and publicized, forced Ambrose Burnside’s dismissal from his duties, and
he never received another command.
Ames’ division played a minor role in the flawed operation. As the charging Federal
troops attacked through the crater, Ames’ division remained behind as reserves. At the zenith of
the vicious fighting in the man-made depression, Ames received orders to move his division
towards the battle. Due to the congestion and chaos ahead of them, the division never
participated in the battle, turning back as the Union survivors retreated from the fray.36 Ames
was not criticized for not moving his division forward into the battle; perhaps Grant and Meade
Charles H. Houghton, Brevet Major, "In The Crater," in Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence
Clough Buel’s, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, 561.
Ibid., 567
O.R. Series I, XL, Part I, 108-109
were relieved that Ames had the sense to not risk a fine division in a useless, foolish endeavor.37
In his official testimony in a military inquiry, Ames gave his opinion as to why the Battle of the
Crater became a greater disaster than it could have been. He was relatively accurate in his
assertion although it was his opinion nonetheless. “I think the trouble was no one person at the
front who was responsible,” Ames testified, “in consequence of which there was no unity of
action. It took a long time for commanders in the front to communicate with those in the vicinity
of the 14-gun battery in the rear.”38
After the Battle of the Crater, Grant sought other avenues through which the Union army
could conduct aggressive tactics against the Southern defenses. On September 28, the Tenth and
Eighteenth Corps crossed over from the south bank to the north side of the James River. The
following day, the two corps assaulted two Confederate installations, Fort Harrison and Fort
Gilmer.39 Finding himself near the familiar terrain of Bermuda Hundred, Ames and his division
fought admirably, fighting alongside David Birney’s famed black troops.40
The fighting was ferocious, and the Union troops overwhelmed the Confederate
defenders, taking the salient as well as over a dozen pieces of artillery.41 However, when Ames
and Birney’s troops charged towards Fort Gilmer they were repulsed, suffering significant losses.
Although the Union failed in taking Fort Gilmer, they held Fort Harrison and prevented the
Confederates from reclaiming it during a large assault supported by Rebel artillery.42 The
bravery of the Union troops was duly noted in Brigadier General R.S. Foster’s report written
later that year. In Foster’s report, the officer took the time to highlight the conduct of all the
Benson The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 72.
“Record of the Court of Inquiry on the Mine Explosion,” Official Records: Union and Confederate
Armies, Series I, Vol. 40, Part I, 108.
U.S. Grant, Lieutenant-General, "General Grant on the Siege of Petersburg," in Robert Underwood
Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel’s, ed, Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, 577.
Benson The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 73.
Grant, "General Grant on the Siege of Petersburg," Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV, 577.
Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 179.
combatants and mentioned Ames as well. To the recipient of the report, Foster writes, “I am glad
to be able to congratulate you upon the fact that my successor to the command of the Second
Division is that gallant young soldier and able officer, Brigadier-General Ames, of whose
brilliant reputation you are already aware.”43 Unfortunately, Ames’ individual actions are not
mentioned, however, the opposition his troops faced and their courageousness were duly noted.44
Ames relieved some of his boredom due to the recent fighting, but it quickly reasserted
itself. “Here we have little to do,” Ames said. “No firing is going on this front. We come here to
recuperate.”45 Languishing, Ames applied for a leave of absence for the second half of
September and early October. The leave was soon granted, and Ames travelled to Minnesota
where he hoped to settle down after the war.46 Ames returned to his division in mid-October. He
participated in some minor engagements but nothing of great significance. For the most part,
nothing of consequence was taking place on the multiple fronts of Petersburg as the Union Army
slowly strangled the Army of Northern Virginia.
As 1864 was about to give way to 1865, General Grant turned his attention toward other
fronts as his army and Lee’s remained deadlocked in siege. Fort Fisher, a Confederate stronghold
in North Carolina, appropriately, drew significant attention from Grant. Guarding the final open
port of the Confederacy at the mouth of the Cape Fear River in North Carolina, Fort Fisher’s fall
would greatly accelerate the conclusion of the war. The fort permitted information and supplies
to enter the city of Wilmington, thus providing the South with valuable intelligence, provisions,
and munitions that managed to sneak through the suffocating and almost impenetrable Union
O.R. Series I, Vol 42, Part III, page 801-802.
Ibid., 801.
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, September 1, 1864, Ames Family Papers, Smith
College,Northampton, MA. (A significant number of Ames’ command fell ill during this time after overseeing the
construction of earthwoorks.)
Benson The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 73.
blockade. The port also exported tobacco and cotton to Great Britain, and it remained in relative
security thirty miles inland from the fort that dominated the coastline.47 In early December 1864,
Grant ordered that troops from the Army of the James would make the expedition to take Fort
Fisher. Overseen by General Godfrey Weitzel, a gifted solider with a copious amount of
engineering knowledge, 7,000 soldiers embarked from the Virginian coastline and sailed south to
the mouth of the Cape Fear River. Included in the expeditionary force was Ames and his division
of 3,300 men, comprised of troops from Indiana, New Hampshire, New York, and
Grant believed that his troops could take the fort with only a fraction of the Army of the
James. Thus, the landing force consisted of Ames’ second division of the Twenty-Fourth Corps,
which would spearhead the assault, while the all-black third division of the Twenty-Fifth Corps
would be support.49 Backed by expert leaders who were skilled engineers, the expeditionary
army, with less troops than it should have had, received orders on December 6, 1864, to embark
for the coast of North Carolina.50 Ames and his troops left the Bermuda Hundred on December 8,
reaching their rendezvous point at New Inlet, North Carolina on the December 15. During the
weekend that ensued, Ames and his men awaited the coming of the Navy.51 In the past, the Navy
had bludgeoned the defenses of Fort Fisher with solid shot and shells, but little damage resulted.
Hopefully, a new barrage, and the landing of the infantry, would take the Confederate fortress.
The invasionary force was delayed by nature and by man. The day after Admiral David
Porter and the navy arrived on December 18, exceedingly turbulent waters made the landing
Adelbert Ames, Capture of Fort Fisher, (Library of Congress, 1897), 1.
Ibid., 1.
Rod Gragg, Confederate Goliath: The Battle of Fort Fisher, (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers,
1991), 36.
Ames, Capture of Fort Fisher, 1.
Ibid., 2.
seem unlikely to succeed. For the following week, a severe gale delayed transports bearing coal
and other supplies needed for the Union fleet and troops.52 Ames, being more logistically diligent
than in the past, managed to appropriately ration his supplies, thus his ship, which held one of his
brigades, had enough provisions and did not make it necessary to attempt a harrowing landing on
the Carolina coastline to resupply. An additional delay was due to the arrival of General
Benjamin Butler. Technically, Butler commanded the sector in which the landing was taking
place. Grant tried to be cautious with the situation. He wanted General Weitzel’s oversight, yet
Butler had the right to assume command as well. Butler, perhaps to improve the negative
trajectory of his reputation, concocted a bizarre idea to send an old ship, laden with gunpowder,
towards Fort Fisher. The ship would ignite, explode, and damage the outer defenses of the Fort
obliterating defenders.53 Grant pessimistically approved the plan, while Butler and Porter
expressed optimism. Engineers and demolition experts, for an array of reasons, staunchly
advocated against the plan.54
The plan, as noted in Ames’ account of the Battles of Fort Fisher, was a failure. The
powder exploded at 2 pm on December 24.55 The notorious scheme did little to inflict damage on
the Fort; it was very anticlimactic, practically innocuous.56 The vessel, which bore 215 tons of
gunpowder, was described by a naval officer who said, “We all believed in it from the Admiral
down, but when it proved so laughable a failure we, of the navy, laid its paternity upon Butler.”57
Indeed, Porter distanced himself from the attempt, justifying it as a last resort.
Ibid., 2.
Foote, The Civil War Narrative, 716-717, Gragg, Confederate Goliath, 40
Ibid., 40.
Ames, Capture of Fort Fisher, 2.
Foote, The Civil War Narrative, 718.
Ames, Capture of Fort Fisher, 3.
Ultimately, the first attempt to take Fort Fisher became a failure, but fortunately, it did
not imitate previous failures which cost the Union dearly like Fort Wagner and the Crater. The
troops landed on Christmas day, following a barrage from Porter’s fleet. Ames’ division captured
over 200 Confederate defenders and some artillery pieces as well.58 As Ames instructed his
division to charge and take the fort, Weitzel overruled him.59 Having noticed that the fort was
intact following the barrage, Weitzel advised against assaulting the position. Additionally,
Butler, upon hearing word from prisoners captured by Ames that Confederate reinforcements
outnumbering the Union force had arrived, ordered a withdraw. Both Confederate and Union
armies suffered from inaccurate reports regarding how many soldiers actually participated in the
battle.60 However, due to the accelerated arrival of dusk, and the return of inclement weather, a
portion of Ames’ soldiers remained stranded on the beach, fearing capture.61 Ames’ men avoided
capture, which was never imminent, and the Union force withdrew from the mouth of the Cape
Fear River in an embarrassing fashion.
Ames was livid and thus irritated by the events. Most notably, he had received word from
his brigade commander, Newton M. Curtis, that the fort could be taken. However, as Ames
ordered Curtis forward, countermining orders had halted the attack and eventually called Ames’
division back to the transport boats.62 In a letter home, Ames expressed his dissatisfaction. “I feel
disappointed and mortified at our failure, but have the consolation that the fault was not
attributable to me in the least.”63 The first expedition to take Fort Fisher was a failure, and in the
end the fact that Ames’ assault never took place was a beneficial outcome. From the start, the
Chris E. Fonvielle Jr., The Wilmington Campaign: Last Rays of Departing Hope, (Mechanicsburg, PA:
Stackpole Books, 2001), 166-167.
Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 186.
Gragg, Confederate Goliath, 95-96.
Ibid., 96, Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 165.
Ames, Capture of Fort Fisher, 6.
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, January 2, 1865, Ames Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton,
plan was flawed. The Union force lacked proper oversight, as well as intelligence, regarding the
state of Fort Fisher when the troops landed after the barrage. In short, most of the guns were still
operable in Fort Fisher and the defenders were more than prepared with canister to shred the
oncoming infantrymen. A battle that suffered from miscommunication, the First Battle of Fort
Fisher had the possibility to be more than just embarrassing; it had the potential to be disastrous.
After the first expedition failed, the Union expediently assembled another force to take
Fort Fisher. Now under the command of General Alfred H. Terry, the second expeditionary force
consisted of over 8,000 men. Again, it was Ames’ division that spearheaded the assault. Charles
G. Paine’s second division, an additional brigade from the Twenty-Fourth Corps led by Colonel
Joseph C. Abbot, and a collection of marines and sailors comprised the rest of the landing force.
However, Ames and his men would primarily face the daunting task on their own. The majority
of Terry’s force entrenched themselves to protect Ames’ assault from a possible enemy
counterattack from a Confederate position seven miles to the north.64 The second expeditionary
force would succeed where the first failed, and the battle displayed unequaled heroism as well as
unfortunately unavoidable egotism.
The expedition, like the previous one, endured a grueling gale that greatly affected the
large contingent of ships before they set sail for the stronghold on January 12, 1865.65 Over
eighty ships reached anchorage five miles outside of Fort Fisher that evening, compelling the
Confederate commander, William Lamb, to request that General Braxton Bragg, stationed in
Wilmington, send General Hoke’s division from the north to reinforce the fortress.66 As the
Confederate defenders equipped themselves for the imminent assault, Ames’ division prepared to
make their landing. At the time, Ames and Newton Martin Curtis, found themselves in the midst
Benson The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 78.
Gragg, Confederate Goliath, 95-96.
Ibid., 110.
of a feud that stretched back to the first attempt to take the bastion. Curtis, believing that Ames
did not oppose the order to retreat aggressively enough in the first battle, envied the young
general’s position and while also possessing a staunch dislike the attitudinal Ames. Ames had
previously made accusations about Martin participating in trickery, and neither was talking to
each other as the Union attack commenced.67
The Second Battle of Fort Fisher, now led by Terry, and assisted by Admiral Porter,
worked together to devise a strong strategy of attack. With a majority of the Union force
protecting themselves against an attack from Hoke’s division to the north, Ames’ division would
spearhead the assault from the land while 2,000 sailors and marines would charge the seaward
end of Fort Fisher. On January 15, Porter’s flotilla opened fire on the fort, and by midday had
silenced a majority of the Confederate guns.68 The navy exceled in its bombardment, but the
sailors and marines failed miserably in their amphibious attack. Armed with cutlasses and
pistols, the seamen and leathernecks charged in a discombobulated mass. The sailors and
marines, unaccustomed to combat on the land, suffered significant losses. Still, their ill-fated
attack did its job as it drew the Confederate’s attention away from the section of the fort where
Ames was to attack. 69
The defenders of Fort Fisher cheered when they repulsed the first surge of Union
attackers, but that all changed when the primary assault under Ames soon commenced. Ames
oversaw the entire operation, paying attention to every detail. Once everything was in order,
Ames received permission from Terry to begin the attack. “Gentlemen,” Ames told his staff, “we
will now go forward.”70 Colonel Henry C. Lockewood, Ames’ aide-de-camp wrote a detailed
Ibid., 116.
Ibid., 135.
Ibid., 158-167
, Henry C. Lockewood “The Capture of Fort Fisher,” The Maine Bugle, (January 1894), 39-64, 46.
account of the battle. “It was half past three when the steam-whistles shrieked out the signal for
the attack,” Lockewood recalled. “The Confederate officers had scarcely ceased cheering at the
repulse of the sailors when they were surprised to see Federal battle-flags on the left of their
work. The ground over which the right of our column passed was marshy and difficult; sometimes
the men sank waist-deep into the mire, and some of the wounded perished here.”71
Lead by Curtis’ troops, the division charged forward, closely followed by Colonel
Galusha Pennypacker’s brigade. Once the Union troops surged over the parapets and walls, the
hand to hand fighting became some of the most vicious of the war. “It was a charge of my
brigades, one after the other,” Ames recalled, “followed by desperate fighting at close quarters
over the parapet and traverses and in and through the covered ways. All the time we were
exposed to the musketry and artillery of the enemy, while our own Navy was thundering away,
occasionally making us victims of its fire.”72
Ames’ brigades managed to gain a foothold in the fort, which was critical, but as the
fighting continued, stretching to roughly seven hours in length, the Union soldiers encountered
staunch defenders who refused to relinquish the many traverses of the fort.73 Lockewood
commented that the ability to hold the captured traverses while pressing onward into other
portions of the fort was a difficult problem but one effectively managed by Ames. Giving ample
credit to the veteran troops and immediate officers, Lockewood focused a great deal of his praise
towards Ames. He described Ames as a commander in the thick of the fighting, bearing a great
deal of the responsibility for the successful attack, which was accurate. While Terry remained
over 800 yards away on the shoreline, Ames had complete authority over the details of the
Ibid., 46-47
Ames, Capture of Fort Fisher, 12.
Traverses are walls which separate gun emplacements, building entrances, and other positions from
enfilading fire.
engagement. In his account, Lockewood detailed a conversation, overheard by Captain Charles
A. Carlton, between the two generals prior to the battle. After Terry agreed that the assault
should begin, Ames asked if he had any specific orders. Terry replied, “No, you understand the
situation and what it is desired to accomplish. I leave everything to your discretion.”74 Thus,
Ames actively attentively led in the midst of the chaotic struggle. “It is difficult to understand
how Ames went unscathed at this time,” Lockewood recalled, “while exposing himself, as he
did, for he wore a brigadier-general’s dress-coat.”75 In a letter home, Ames expressed his
surprise that he evaded injury or death during the fight. “My escape unhurt was quite
miraculous,” Ames admitted. “Of the six staff officers whom I took into the fight with me, only
two escaped unhurt. The fighting was of the most desperate character and reflects the highest
honor upon all concerned.”76
As the Union troops pushed through each traverse and parapet, the fighting escalated in
ferocity.77 Soldiers discharged their muskets at point blank range, officers wielded their swords
in close quarters, and the disorganized regiments soon formed their own units comprised of
soldiers from different brigades. Ames was unable to keep units intact, but he was able to keep
the attack from halting, although at one point he considered entrenching and waiting for
reinforcements.78 The fighting did not diminish when the light of the sun did. Officers, whose
voices were hoarse from giving orders over the inferno, led their men using the butt of their
muskets and the cold steel of swords and bayonets to rush the defenders of each traverse.79 One
Confederate battery, called Buchannan, continued to pour shells into the fray “killing and
Ibid., 45.
Ibid., 44.
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, January 30, 1865, Ames Family Papers, Smith College,
Northampton, MA.
O.R. Series I, Vol., XLVI Part I, 399.
Gragg, Confederate Goliath, 210.
Lockewood “The Capture of Fort Fisher,” 54
wounded them [Federals] by the score.”80 As recalled by Ames’ aide-de-camp, “The enemy still
kept up an impetuous resistance, and would not permit darkness to put an end to hostilities.”81
In the midst of the fighting, Ames stood steadfast, calm, and collected. Most of
Lockewood’s account of the fight, which is perhaps the most neutral of any given, described his
commander during the zenith of the battle:
At last Ames stood within this circuit of fire amid the fragments of his
division; every brigade and almost all of the regimental commanders had
fallen, as well as most of his personal staff, so that for necessary duty
substitutes for the latter had to be taken temporarily from the most available
officers at hand. Ames, who had entered the fort at the head of the Second
Brigade, remained there fighting with his men until the close of the action.82
After seven hours of grueling fire, long after the sun had set over the Carolina coastline,
Fort Fisher capitulated. At one earlier moment, Terry doubted the attack would triumph after the
engagement extended beyond the light of day but it nonetheless succeeded.83 The fight, which
took place primarily at dusk or in the pitch darkness of night, concluded with Ames’ men in sole
possession of the prized Fort Fisher, while the remaining Confederates who avoided death or
capture retreated two miles away to Battery Buchannan.84 General Terry, joining a contingent of
Abbot’s brigade, marched towards the Confederate battery where, according to Abbot, the
commanding officer of the Confederate force tendered the surrender of his despondent and
depleted command as well as the battery itself.85 Ames, in contrast, contended that Colonel
Lockewood already accepted the surrender of the troops who positioned themselves in Battery
Buchannan.86 Nevertheless, by 10 o’clock that evening, the Union army had finally succeeded in
Ibid., 54.
Ibid., 54
Ibid., 53
Gragg, Confederate Goliath, 212.
Ames, Capture of Fort Fisher, 16.
Ibid., 16., Gragg, Confederate Goliath, 228.
Ames, Capture of Fort Fisher, 16.
taking the last great Confederate salient, a crushing blow to the morale and a logistical loss for a
weakening cause.
The North was ecstatic about the fall of Fort Fisher. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton
arrived at Fort Fisher to conduct an interview with General Terry and discuss the details of the
successful capture. Yet, in a common development, the senior commander accepted the credit for
the capture even though he did little besides give the order to take the stronghold. In one of
Terry’s official reports, he applauds Ames, recommending him for a promotion, and gives ample
credit to the brigade commanders who fought admirably as well.87 However, that report found
itself in the annals of War Department papers while another report from Terry, which highlighted
himself as the primary decision maker, is what journalists relied on to chronicle the events of
January 15, 1865. Ames’ invaluable role in the taking of the fort was a glaring omission in the
northern newspapers which exasperated Ames and confused soldiers like Lockewood who called
it a “great injustice to a gallant officer.”88 In a later report, Terry said that, “On reflection, I feel
that I have not done full justice to General Ames’ merits.”89 Regardless of Terry’s post-battle
reflections, Ames did not receive the proper praise for his efforts. He did receive a promotion,
making him a brevet-Brigadier General in the Regular Army, but regrettably only a few
individuals knew of General Ames’ role in taking Fort Fisher.90
Ames wrote to his parents, saying, “I believe he [Terry] gives me the credit of my
services in his report, but the newspapers do not. I was in hopes I should be made a Major
General, but think it doubtful for the present.”91 Ultimately, most of the participants in the Battle
O.R. Series I, Vol., XLVI Part I, 400.
Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 199.
O.R. Series I, Vol., LI, Part I, 1200.
Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, 199.
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, February 9, 1865, Ames Family Papers, Smith College,
Northampton, MA.
of Fort Fisher wanted their just accolades and adoration for their part in one of the final, and one
of the most impressive, assaults during the war. In the end, Ames felt slighted and years
afterwards, in 1897, he wrote his own account of the battle. Ames’ work, while backed by solid
research, angered his former rival Curtis, who was still alive and won a Medal of Honor for his
gallantry at Fort Fisher.92 The two officers, who feuded during the war, clashed years later.
Curtis offered a well-investigated rebuttal to Ames’ account, reprimanding Ames for bringing up
the topic after one of the key actors, General Terry, had been deceased for nearly seven years.93
While Ames described Terry as a spectator and minimized Curtis’s role—actually calling into
question the worthiness of his Medal of Honor—Curtis said that Terry deserved primary credit
and that Ames would have rather entrenched around Fort Fisher than scale the ramparts.94 The
men did give credit to each other; Curtis did not disgrace his commander’s intelligence or
coolness under pressure and Ames applauded Curtis for his bravery and judgment.95 Yet, Ames
and Curtis took their quarrel to the grave and both refused to concede that they exaggerated their
part in the battle. In the court of public opinion, Curtis’ account initially gained a more
supportive following.96
However, in likely the most neutral account of the battle, Henry C. Lockewood details
the superior management attributes and unquestionable courage of Ames. Yet, Colonel
Lockewood also designates General Curtis as “herculean” and describes the valor of his
leadership.97 Additionally, Lockewood does not speak ill towards Terry in his account. In short,
each officer, whose name Lockewood mentions, had a key role in the Union’s success that day.
Gragg, Confederate Goliath, 228.
Ibid., 266-267
Ibid., 266-267.
Ames, Capture of Fort Fisher, 23.
Gragg, Confederate Goliath, 267.
Lockewood “The Capture of Fort Fisher,” 53.
Terry devised the operation that succeeded and allowed his capable subordinate to make
decisions during the engagement, Ames directed and participated in the victorious maneuvers,
and Curtis dauntlessly led the first wave of the attack and received a gruesome facial wound in
the process.
Ames, although frustrated because his role in the battle had been diminished or
completely bypassed, did not stop praising his troops for their efforts. “The conduct of the
officers and men of this division was most gallant,” Ames reported.98 In his official account of
the battle, Ames applauded each of his brigade commanders, including Curtis, citing their
bravery, efficiency, and zeal.99 Colonel Lockewood’s account championed his general who
championed his subordinates. Describing Ames as courageous, cool under fire, and eliciting the
admiration of both officers and enlisted man, Lockewood contended that, “The nation should be
thankful that we had the right man in the right place.”100 Ames’ service, throughout the war but
particularly during Fort Fisher, displayed the type of invaluable leadership young generals and
mid-level commanders had in producing military success for the Union.
With Fort Fisher in Federal hands, Wilmington, North Carolina faced inevitable
occupation. On February 22, Ames’ division entered the city of Wilmington.101 In the early
morning hours, Terry’s army, led by Abbot’s brigade advanced with swords drawn and bayonets
fixed toward earthworks outside of the city. The Union soldiers surged over the Confederate
defenses, but the only obstacles they encountered consisted of spiked cannons and discarded
ammunition boxes.102 Met by the chief of police bearing a white flag, Terry received word that
the mayor of Wilmington had authorized the surrender of the city. At 9:30 am, Terry and the
O.R. Series I, Vol., XLVI Part 1, 416.
Ames, Capture of Fort Fisher, 23.
Lockewood “The Capture of Fort Fisher,” 48.
O.R. Series I, Vol., XLVII, Part I, 151.
Fonvielle Jr., The Wilmington Campaign, 428.
leading columns entered the city, the Yankee bands blaring “Yankee Doodle” as they
marched.103 The capture of the city was a just reward to the troops, especially Ames’, who fought
so valiantly to take Fort Fisher.
Following the capture of Wilmington, Ames and his division participated in the pursuit of
Braxton Bragg’s force who had withdrawn from Wilmington. The two armies did not clash in a
full-scale engagement, but the two sides did skirmish.104 In addition to taking Fort Fisher and
Wilmington, Terry’s army played a supportive role in replenishing General William T.
Sherman’s army, which had entered North Carolina after torching Georgia and South
Carolina.105 As Grant’s army wore down the southern resolve in Virginia, Terry’s army joined
forces with Sherman on March 21, making Sherman’s command 88,000 strong.106 Ames served
at First Bull Run with Sherman. Now, four years later, the two men were in the same army again,
and Ames could see that the end of the war was in sight. In fact, the day after Wilmington fell,
Ames told his parents, “The rebels now have only Richmond, and I do not believe they can
remain there long on account of the difficulty of procuring subsistence…The Confederacy is
going with a crash.”107
Ames and his division did not participate in the final skirmishes in the Carolinas—his
command supported Sherman’s troops—but he wrote home describing futile Confederate
attacks. “Our forces were attacked by the rebels, and it is thought they intended to fight Sherman
at a disadvantage and improve the only opportunity they probably will have to do anything
Ibid., 428.
Ibid., 430.
Ibid., 435
Ibid., 435, Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, March 26, 1865, Ames Family Papers, Smith College,
Northampton, MA.
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, February 23, 1865, Ames Family Papers, Smith College,
Northampton, MA.
positive to retrieve their waning cause,” Ames wrote.108 When Ames dated his letter on March
26, 1865, he did so as a major general in the U.S. Volunteers. Brevetted two weeks prior, Ames’
promotion was considered an appropriate measure for a deserving officer.109
Although Ames’ service during the Civil War began with the peril and excitement of
First Bull Run, it ended quietly. Following three days of deliberation, Lieutenant General Joseph
E. Johnson surrendered his forces as well as all active Confederate military from North Carolina
to Florida. The surrender became official on April 26, 1865.110 Ames would remain in the Army,
serving in several capacities in one of the districts established in the South following the end of
the war. During his time in North and South Carolina, Ames began another chapter in his life
which would significantly impact his career and livelihood. It would overshadow his military
service and would regrettably draw scholarly and public attention away from a military career
that incarnated the brand of leadership and the dedicated service of mid-level commanders that
helped deliver victory to the North.111
In the words of Harry King Benson, “The war was over. For Ames, a Major General at
twenty-nine years of age, the long, bitter conflict had been a springboard to almost instant
military success. Vigorous, able and dedicated, the young West Pointer had all of the
prerequisites for military leadership.”112 Although assisted by positive recommendations from
senior officers and former commanders who were aware or had witnessed his actions, Ames also
earned many of his promotions for his conduct. “Wherever circumstances placed him,” Benson
said, “he earned the encomiums of superiors. If he frequently aroused animosity among
Adelbert to Martha and Jesse Ames, March 26, 1865, Ames Family Papers, Smith College,
Northampton, MA.
George W. Cullum, Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the U.S. Military Academy,
Volume II, 2nd ed,, (New York, NY:, D. Van Nostrand, 1879), 1892, 773.
Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 85.
Gragg, Confederate Goliath, 265.
Benson, The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876, 85.
subordinates by his strict military discipline, it was turned, often as not, into respect and loyalty
by his courage and willingness to endure the same hardships as his men.113
Ibid., 85.
Adelbert Ames’ postwar life lacked the same exhilarating peril that battle brought him,
but it was also far from underwhelming and routine. While still serving in the regular army,
Ames requested a leave of absence to travel Europe, an excursion that opened his eyes to the
world and made him question whether or not to remain in the army.1 Upon his return, Ames, a
lieutenant colonel in the peacetime army, arrived in Mississippi. He handled a variety of minor
tasks over the next few years. Due to the inability to produce a new state constitution,
Mississippi remained under military rule. Ames soon found himself as the provisional military
governor, an appointment given directly by the new president, Ulysses S. Grant.2 Regardless of
any personal convictions Ames may have had, either for or against the policies of reconstruction,
he did his utmost to enforce the law in an uncooperative environment.
In 1870, Ames married Blanche Butler, the daughter of his former commander Benjamin
Butler.3 As their family began to grow, so did the opposition to the reconstruction. In
Mississippi, inhabitants grew restless and Republicans quarreled over assuring rights and
education to the freed slaves of the state.4 Ames, still in the army, ran for the U.S. senate seat in
Mississippi following the Magnolia State’s readmission into the Union on February 3, 1870; he
won, but likely because rival opponents withdrew.5 During his time as Senator, Ames became
increasingly aware of the defects developing in the reconstruction of post-war Mississippi,
specifically its struggles after it returned to the Union. Free blacks took notice of their senator,
Richard N. Current, Three Carpetbag Governors, (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press,
1967), 71.
Ibid., 71.
Pauline Ames Plimpton, The Ancestry of Blanch Butler Ames and Adelbert Ames, (New York, NY:
Wizard Graphics INC, 1977), 257.
Richard Nelson Current, Those Terrible Carpetbaggers: A Reinterpretation, (New York, NY: Oxford
University Press, 1988), 179.
Ibid. 179-181
believing him to be a force of good and a better alternative to the current governor, moderate
Republican and a rival of Ames, James Alcorn.6 Ultimately, Ames defeated Alcorn in the
gubernatorial race of 1873.
Ames’ time as governor was rife with violence and corruption. He quickly became
assimilated into the infamous group known as Carpetbaggers. However, while Ames was not a
native southerner and did have some political aspirations, he was not of the same mold as the
corruptible and malicious Carpetbaggers who infested the Deep South.7 While Ames managed to
serve with integrity, his associates failed in upholding their duties and his detractors grew in
number. By 1875, the Democratic Party united and captured the vote of nearly every white
voter.8 The Democrats won the election and controlled the state legislature, and when Ames
denounced their intentions, the state senate began the process to impeach Ames; the proceedings
began on March 16, 1876 and the elected body called into question the governor’s actions
claiming they were “unmindful of the high duties of his office.”9 Infuriated at the trial attacking
his character, Ames, although wanting to resign, refused to do so with the Senate challenging his
integrity. Interestingly, Ames’ wife, Blanche, devised a simple solution that both parties agreed
to—the Senate cancelled the impeachment trial and Ames readily resigned.10
Although quite done with politics, Ames’ life continued to consist of fascinating
encounters and events even though he was out of the public eye. With his family now in
Minnesota, Ames lived there for a short period of time. During a visit to Northfield, Minnesota,
Ames found himself as a witness and a participant in the gunfight between the local citizens and
Nicholas Lemann, Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War, (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and
Giroux, 2006), 53.
Ibid., 100.
Current, Three Carpetbag Governors, 86.
Ibid 91, Journal of the Senate of the State of Mississippi. Court of Impeachment in the Trials of Adelbert
Ames, Governor; Alexander K. Davis, Lieutenant-Governor; Thomas W. Cardozo, Superintendent of
Public Education. (Jackson, MS: Power & Barksdale State Printers, 1876) 5.
Current, Three Carpetbag Governors, 92.
the Jesse James-Cole Younger gang while they attempted to rob the local bank. Ames
downplayed his role, saying that he and other citizens were “apparently heroes.”11 Ames went on
to become prosperous, owning businesses in Minnesota, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. His
private life was a success, but at an advanced age, he volunteered to serve his country once more
as a brigadier general in the brief Spanish-American War. During the fighting, Ames participated
in the Santiago Campaign, serving admirably in his ephemeral return to the army.12 A golfing
companion of the Rockefellers, who he befriended in his later years, Ames spent his final days
in Florida, where he passed away on April 13, 1933 at the age of 97—the last surviving general
to serve in the regular army during the Civil War.13
By most standards, Ames lived a long, fruitful life. However, perhaps the most
impressive part of his life, his Civil War record and accomplishments, has received the least
amount of attention from scholars. However, does Ames’ military life deserve more attention?
Perhaps, the minimal scholarship directed his way is suitable enough? Was he was just one of
many young men to fight during the War Between the States? Ultimately, Ames’ military career
does deserve more recognition. The minimal scholarship is insufficient since it does not focus
enough attention on Ames the soldier. He was not just a participant in a massive volunteer army
comprised of thousands of individuals with many experiences. He was a gifted officer, a
decorated hero, who obtained a nearly impeccable record, while providing the Union with one of
its finest, and most highly regarded, young generals. Even more notable, he personified the
characteristics of the fiery and adept secondary officer that helped the Union achieve victory.
“General Ames Too Modest to Tell Part in Northfield Raid,” Northfield News, August 2, 1929, Ames
Family Papers, Smith College, Northampton, MA.
Mark M. Boatner III, The Civil War Dictionary, (New York, NY: David McKay Company Inc., 1959),
“Gen. Adelbert Ames dies,” Florida Times Union, April 14, 1933, Ames Family Papers, Smith College,
Northampton, MA.
Ames was not another average officer in a volunteer army comprised of many. Ames was
one of the most talented and esteemed young officers in the Union Army, and, when compared to
his colleagues, deserves to be considered one of the finest if not the best boy general to fight for
the North during the American Civil War. On the battlefield, he aptly demonstrated his military
skills, which he learned while at West Point. Validating his skills and intellect in multiple
capacities, Ames displayed his engineering abilities on multiple occasions, particularly during
the Peninsula Campaign.14 Additionally, the officer exhibited his ability to train and instruct his
soldiers for what awaited them on the battlefield. Although it stretched his tolerance, and Ames
himself frequently succumbed to impatience and fury in the process, he deserves the credit for
preparing and equipping one of the finest volunteer regiments in the war, the Twentieth Maine.15
Ames would only command the regiment for a few months, yet the accomplishments of the
regiment, during and after Ames’ leadership, are a direct reflection on the discipline Ames
provided during training and the invaluable and prodigious leadership and poise he showed on
the battlefield.
The high praise Ames received from his commanding officers attests to his intelligence,
capability, and reliability as a commander. Whether in personal letters of correspondence, postwar memoirs, or official reports, Ames’ superiors lauded his abilities. They detailed his
intelligence, his courage, and his valor. The officers who noticed and acknowledged Ames’
meritorious conduct were not unknowns but rather notable figures in the Union army. Grant,
Meade, Hooker, Howard, Griffin, and many more extolled Ames’ service, singling the young
O.R., Series I, Vol., XI, Part II, 352.
John J. Pullen, The Twentieth Maine: A Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War, (Philadelphia, PA: J.B.
Lippincott Company, 1957), 1.
officer out of many for his demeanor and abilities.16 When examining Ames’ talents and skills
partnered with the high praise he received, it becomes apparent that he was one of the more
heralded young officers in the army.
A defining characteristic of Ames’ military career was his promotion to brigadier
general at the age of 27. Becoming a general at that age, Ames joined an impressive fraternity of
young officers in the Union army that became “boy generals” during the war. The boy generals
served valiantly. Most of them garnered acclaim for their fearlessness and many received
decorations and battlefield promotions. Unfortunately, while Ames is one of these esteemed
young soldiers, his name is often unmentioned. In comparison, young generals like Emory
Upton, Wesley Merritt, and George Armstrong Custer receive more acclaim and each have
received recent scholarship detailing their actions. Yet, Ames’ career is arguably the most
distinguished of any boy general.
As noted previously, Ames’ conduct on the battlefield was nearly impeccable. In
addition, he was a West Point graduate who served in the engineers, artillery, infantry, and
almost served in the cavalry, yet his superiors deemed his services as an infantry officer too
valuable to allow him to command horseman.17 Furthermore, Ames received the Medal of Honor
for his actions at First Bull Run and rose to the rank of major general, commanding infantry
divisions during some of the most pivotal portions of major battles in the Eastern Theatre. The
careers, courage, and conduct of Ames’ fellow boy generals are, in most instances, above
reproach; it is inappropriate to downplay their service. However, Ames’ career is the most
prestigious and impressive. In order to match the amount of responsibility and decorations Ames
Blanche Ames Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, (London, UK:
MacDonald & Company, 1964), 98-100.
Blanche Ames Ames, Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933, (London, UK:
MacDonald & Company, 1964), 218.
achieved, it would require the combination of nearly every other boy general’s record. Moreover,
Ames trained one of the finest Union volunteer regiments in the entire war—an achievement that
none of his colleagues can match. The other boy generals, many serving predominantly in the
cavalry, were daring and skilled and have justly garnered acclaim for their actions and supportive
roles. However, while some of them served in the infantry, some of them earned the rank of
major general, and two won the Medal of Honor, Ames was the only boy general to accomplish
all of those feats. The finest boy general, Ames regrettably lacks the same attention yet boasts a
more outstanding record.
When researching Ames, it becomes apparent that the lack of scholarship directed
towards him is unfortunate. However, it is also vital to avoid placing him in pantheons where he
does not belong. Sources indicate that Ames was a phenomenal solider, but to elevate him to the
status of one of his admirers, U.S. Grant, or men like Philip Sheridan or William T. Sherman,
would be inappropriate based on their status and responsibilities for the entire Union cause.
Additionally, in order to provide Ames the proper attention, it is important not to diminish the
actions of comparable officers, Francis Channing Barlow, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, and
the boy generals. Rather, Ames should receive praise for his actions and be placed within the
appropriate context as a prime example of the type of secondary commander that enabled the
campaigns led by Grant and Sherman to succeed. It was officers like Ames, in command of corps
and divisions, who helped the Union Army win tide-turning battles. Ames was an
unquestionably gifted and regarded general whose career was equitable to other noted corps and
division commanders. He shined as probably the brightest and most successful of the renowned
boy generals, and proved to be an invaluable mid-level commander whose leadership helped the
Union win the war.
With zeal and fortitude, Ames served admirably during the war. While his name is
somewhat obscure and portions of his career were spent as a member of failed and futile
campaigns, his military career was far too impressive to overlook. Ames is mentioned
sporadically in Civil War monographs; the more detailed the piece of scholarship, looking at the
Battle of Fort Fisher for instance, the more frequently he is mentioned. In fact, while the
accomplishments of his former regiment and subordinate, the Twentieth Maine and Joshua
Lawrence Chamberlain, are nearly legendary, the officer greatly responsible for their success
goes unnoticed. Ames’ career included stints in obscure and relatively insignificant and
unsuccessful campaigns. However, he did serve in a significant amount of notable and important
campaigns and engagements.
Ames was a man who braved the direst of circumstances during war, and while prone to
react inappropriately due to his temperamental deficiencies, never failed to do his utmost on the
battlefield. Not once did Ames ever ask his troops to do what he would not. He continually
demonstrated discipline and repeatedly succeeded in his tasks. As a young, ambitious, heroic, yet
imperfect officer, Ames repeatedly epitomized the characteristics that made him a valued officer
and an important contributor to the Union cause. In short, and most importantly, Ames
exemplifies the brand of soldier that gave the North exceptional field commanders that could be
relied on to attain victory.
In an article published the day after Ames’ death, J.R. Lewis of Holyoke, Massachusetts
described the vast accomplishments of the Union officer. Having outlived many of his
contemporaries from the Civil War era, Ames was described as “the last leaf on the tree and he
must have been the last prominent figure of one of the most stirring periods in our history.”18 In a
prophetic statement, Lewis wrote, “Possibly the rush of modern times make the figures of a past
“Gen. Adelbert Ames dies,” Florida Times Union, April 14, 1933.
age increasingly less concern to us.”19 Perhaps the rush of modern times has indeed made Ames
less of a concern. While other individuals of significance from the distant war receive greater
attention and notoriety, Ames does not. Even those individuals who share the same status and
importance as Ames are more renowned in both amateur and academic circles. His entire life
was one of unique and impressive experiences, the greatest of which was his gallant service in
the American Civil War when he displayed the highest forms of heroism and contributed to the
ultimate Union victory. If not for the Civil War, in all likelihood, Ames would have just been a
Mainer from Rockland, a bystander, an unknown. Ironically, even though his accomplishments
are worthy of study, he is still somewhat of an unknown.
Primary Sources:
Archive Sources:
Northampton, Massachusetts
Adelbert Ames Papers
Blanche Ames Papers
Benjamin F. Butler Papers
Brunswick, Maine
O.O. Howard Papers
The New York Times
National Archives
War of the Rebellion: Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.
Monographs and Articles:
Ames, Adelbert. Capture of Fort Fisher. Library of Congress, 1897.
Ames, Blanche Butler, ed. Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century: Family Letters of Blanche
Butler and Adelbert Ames Volume I, 1861-1874. Privately Issued by Colonial Press Inc.,
Clinton: MA, 1957.
Ames, Blanche Butler, ed. Chronicles From the Nineteenth Century: Family Letters of Blanche
Butler and Adelbert Ames Volume II, 1874-1899. Privately Issued by Colonial Press Inc.,
Clinton: MA, 1957.
Carter, Robert G., “Four Brothers in Blue: The Battle of Fredericksburg,” The Maine Bugle,
(July 1898), 236.
Chamberlain, Joshua L. “My Story of Fredericksburg.” Cosmopolitan Magazine, Vol. 54, 148
159, 1913.
Chamberlain, Joshua L. “Letter from Lt. Col. Chamberlain, December 17, 1862.” Bangor Whig
and Courier, 1862.
Gerrish, Theodore. Army Life: A Private’s Reminiscences of the Civil War. Portland, ME: Hoyt,
Fogg, & Donkham, 1882.
Howard, O.O. Autobiography of Oliver Otis Howard. New York: NY, The Baker and Taylor
Company, 1907.
Johnson, Robert Underwood, and Clarence Clough Buel, ed. Battles and Leaders of the Civil
War, Volume I. Secaucus, NJ: Castle Books, 1887.
______ Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: The Struggle Intensifies Volume II. Secaucus, NJ:
Castle Books, 1887.
______ Battles and Leaders of the Civil War: The Tide Shifts, Volume III. Secaucus, NJ: Castle
Books, 1887.
_______Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume IV. Secaucus, NJ: Castle Books, 1887.
Journal of the Senate of the State of Mississippi. Court of Impeachment in the Trials of Adelbert
Ames, Governor; Alexander K. Davis, Lieutenant-Governor; Thomas W. Cardozo,
Superintendent of Public Education. Jackson, MS: Power & Barksdale State Printers,
Lockewood, Henry C. “The Capture of Fort Fisher.” The Atlantic Monthly Volume, Issue 163
(May 1871), 622-636.
Secondary Sources:
Ames, Blanche Ames. Adelbert Ames: General, Senator, Governor, 1835-1933. London, UK:
MacDonald & Company, 1964.
Beattie, Donald W., Rodney M. Cole, and Charles G. Waugh, e.d. A Distant War Comes Home:
Maine in the Civil War Era. Camden, ME: Down East Books, 1996.
Benson, Harry King. The Public Career of Adelbert Ames, 1861-1876. Dissertation, University
of Virginia, Charlottesville: Proquest/UVA, 1975.
Boatner III, Mark M. The Civil War Dictionary. New York, NY: David McKay Company Inc.,
Coolidge, A.J. and J.B. Mansfield. A History and Description of New England, General and
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